The highly anticipated 15-foot Miss Fancy statue is one step closer to completion, and our team got an inside look at the final bronze pour at the Shelby County Arts Council. The magnificent statue is slated to be unveiled at the entrance of Avondale Park in early September. Read on to see what the statue’s artist, Nelson Grice, has to say.
Another Miss Fancy for Avondale Park
Currently, Avondale Park has a smaller Miss Fancy statue on display with an interesting backstory. After its installation in 2012, it was struck by a car and damaged. The statue disappeared for years but was rediscovered in 2020 by Avondale resident, Leslie Smuckler. It has since been repaired and reinstalled back in its rightful home.
In the midst of its disappearance, Ron Council of Friends of Avondale Park, one of the neighborhood’s most beloved civic leaders, made it his mission to bring the statue back to its home. Tragically, he passed away before he could see Miss Fancy return to her former glory.
To continue his legacy, Ron’s wife, Martha Council, made it her mission to raise money for a brand new Miss Fancy statue in Avondale Park. Local sculpture artist, Nelson Grice, was tapped for the project and has been hard at work ever since.
“I grew up in Birmingham and always knew of Avondale Park and the story of Miss Fancy. Years ago, I approached Martha Council and told her if they ever considered creating a large-scale statue of Miss Fancy, I would want to be considered for the task because it was so special to me. I feel really honored and blessed to be the one that’s doing it.”Nelson Grice
Making Miss Fancy
We were excited to report back in February that a location had been finalized for the new Miss Fancy statue. At the time, artist Nelson Grice had just begun the bronze pouring stages. Now, all 130 pieces of the highly-anticipated statue have been poured.
Creating a bronze statue is a lengthy process, and since I’m not an expert, I asked Nelson exactly what steps were involved.
“First, I had to build her all in clay, then make a rubber mold of all of her. I then had to take it apart in pieces and make a wax pattern of all those individual pieces. Those wax pieces were then cast in resin-bonded sand and burned out in a kiln. Then, the bronze was heated up to 2100 degrees and poured into those molds.”Nelson Grice
As you can imagine, operating a giant crucible is not a one-man job. To help make sure everything goes according to plan, Nelson has an all-star crew working with him that includes: Hank Simpson, Stan Copeland and Ted Metz.
With 130 different pieces, you may be wondering how they keep track of it all. Well, each piece is labeled with a letter and number that corresponds to a position on a template Nelson laid out to keep track of each piece.
“It’s a common belief that artists aren’t organized, but I certainly had to prove that wrong for this project. I needed to be super organized to pull this off.”Nelson Grice
The next step to completion? Welding all of the pieces together.
One step closer
Nelson completed his first bronze sculpture about 10 years ago, but his career in art spans much longer than that. After getting his Bachelor of Fine Arts at Montevallo in ’94 and a master’s in Art Education in ’96, he taught at Hoover High School for about 25 years.
Since then he’s clearly come a long way, having the honor of completing a huge Miss Fancy statue for Avondale Park. With dreams of being an artist since he was a child, I had to ask, how does this accomplishment feel?
“I can’t even describe it, it’s euphoric. It’ll feel better once it’s installed…I’m sure I’ll cry. After finishing all the molds, I had to take her apart and it felt like saying goodbye to a friend that I’d see again in a little while. Once she’s put back together I’ll get to see her again but in a completely different material.”Nelson Grice
According to Nelson, they’re building a base for Miss Fancy that matches the stonework in Avondale Park, so it will blend right in with the architecture. Plus, the design itself includes a thoughtful element from Miss Fancy’s history.
“One of the things that I’m most excited about the statue is having an African-American girl riding on her back. Back in the early 1900s, people thought differently and Black people were not even allowed in the park. It just occurred to me that as the artist, this would be a really good thing to do.”Nelson Grice
He said the move was partially inspired by a children’s book, Meet Miss Fancy by Irene Latham, wherein an elephant-loving African-American boy goes on a mission to meet Miss Fancy, trying to find a way around segregation laws that were keeping him barred from her home in Avondale Park.
The statue is slated to be unveiled at an exciting public event in early September 2022. We can’t wait to see the final result!
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