Sculptor Reflects on Creating Bronze Monument
Barnegat Light — Before the dedication on Aug. 7 came the inspiration for the new Lighthouse Keeper statue at Barnegat Lighthouse State Park in Barnegat Light. Sculptor Brian Hanlon was honoring a profession that he considers “venerable,” imagining how many lives the keepers saved on their collective long watch by maintaining the beacon.
“There’s something about that crew of people that’s remarkable,” he said.
A set of interpretive panels about the profession will be phase two of the project. Hanlon expects that segment to be installed this fall.
The Friends of Barnegat Lighthouse State Park paid for the work – almost $100,000, Hanlon said – of the 10-foot bronze monument. Hanlon, who is official sculptor of the National Basketball Association and the Rose Bowl, donated the difference of what he said usually would have been a $250,000 commission.
The statue took “a solid 12 months” to complete.
“The whole thing is rendered in clay,” Hanlon outlined, “then from the clay a mold is made, and from that mold a bronze casting can be fabricated.”
The keeper commands a picturesque spot to the western approach of the painted brick lighthouse.
The finished work is not the original started creation.
“I first made the statue life-sized, and on my own, I destroyed it and made my own version that is 10 feet tall,” Hanlon revealed.
“You only get the chance once to have Barnegat Lighthouse as the backdrop to one of your pieces. I said, ‘I gotta go big or go home.’”
The Barnegat Light Museum, at Fifth Street and Central Avenue, provided the following list of lighthouse keepers:
Henry V. Low (1835-1838, died March 12, 1838);
John H. Low (1838-1839, Henry Low’s son);
Ellen S. Low (1839, served one quarter);
Garrett H. Herring (1839-1841, removed June 15, 1841);
Jeremiah Spragg (1841-1846, removed March 12, 1846);
John Allen (1846-1849, removed Nov. 13, 1849);
John Warren (1849-1851);
Charles Collins (1851-1853);
Joseph H. Townsend (1853-1854);
James Fuller (1854-1861, transitioned from first lighthouse to temporary wooden tower, then to current lighthouse);
Hiram M. Horner (1861-1862);
A.B. Brown (1862-1866);
John Kelley (1866-1873, removed Oct. 22, 1873);
William C. Yates (1873-1875, transferred Oct. 9, 1875);
Joshua H. Reeves (1875-1885, transferred Oct. 20, 1885);
Thomas Bills (1885-1896, transferred Oct. 1, 1896);
Abraham G. Wolf (1896, appointment canceled Dec. 2, 1896);
W.T. Woodmansee (1896-1915);
Clarence H. Cranmer (1915-1926)
Andrew E. Applegate (1926-1928, last official keeper);
Robert E. Applegate (1928-1932, lamplighter);
William E. Rothas (1932-1940, lamplighter).
An observer of the weathered face cast in bronze might wonder if the visage is modeled after any one of the keepers in particular. The sculptor’s answer is that he has seen photographs of some of the keepers, and Capt. Woodmansee’s is the one that moved him.
“The captain was probably a venerable gentleman, which I respect 110 percent in the same way I respect Capt. Mears and what he did and what he gave,” Hanlon said. He was referring to the Fishermen’s Story Memorial, which he fabricated in the likeness of Jimmy Mears to honor commercial fishermen who died following their profession. A third statue by Hanlon stands at the entrance to Viking Village commercial dock in Barnegat Light.
For the keeper statue, besides Woodmansee and the spirit of the keepers in general, the sculptor called upon the face of a memorable, hardworking relative.
“I had a great-uncle Joe Borrie, a super-rugged guy from Jersey City; I also referenced his face. He had this great moustache, and he looked just like he could be one of the guys (in the photos of the keepers. .He was not a seaman; he was a character, and he had many different jobs. And I’m sure lighthouse keepers were all of the above.”
The SandPaper had reached Hanlon at his Toms River-based studio post-ceremony. At the last minute, he could not attend the Aug. 7 dedication because he was in pain from knee replacement surgery that he had scheduled after the statue was erected in late July. The sculptor’s mother, Ellen, a Barnegat Light resident and an artist, said hello to the crowd in his absence.
Barnegat Lighthouse is one of four lighthouses in New Jersey administered by the New Jersey Park Service. Other lighthouses include Twin Lights Historic Site, Absecon Lighthouse, and Cape May Lighthouse in Cape May Point State Park.
State Park Service dignitaries were among those attending the dedication, which coincided with National Lighthouse Day. The interpretive center at the state park has more history on the lighthouse.
“The Friends (of Barnegat Lighthouse State Park) deserve all the credit,” said Hanlon. “I’m blessed to do this job, but they really are the heart and soul and mind behind getting this done.”
He hopes the piece will “educate and inspire.”
“An artist, in my view, is a storyteller. You have got to love history and respect the stories, and if you’re a true artist, the rest is an exercise.”
— Maria Scandale