Shaping History: The sculptor who turned the social movement of his time into art

Frank Hayden’s art was of its time and timeless, attuned to current events and to eternity. Closely associated with the civil rights movement, he created sculptures in honor of those who bore the crosses of that struggle, as well as actual Church-commissioned crucifixes — an American Black Catholic artist in a time of civil and spiritual unrest.

Above all the labels that could be affixed to him, Hayden ’59MFA defined himself first and foremost as a sculptor. Sometimes, his friend Percy Pierre ’61, ’63M.S. relates, Hayden wished he could live in a hole away from the distractions of the world, handing up each new piece “to somebody who would take it and give him a loaf of bread, and he’d go back and do his art again.”

Such simplicity forever eluded him. The unavoidable cultural ferment became material, as much as the wood and aluminum, plaster and fiberglass that were his chosen media. As outgoing in personal relationships as he was inward-looking in his artistic imagination, Hayden combined the two impulses, talking and working, working and talking, steeping his art in the issues of the day and the stirrings of his soul.

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