The People's Tribune

John B. Henderson Bust Enters The Next Phase

An ancient method is being used to make sure a statue honoring one of Louisiana’s most famous people lasts long into the future.

The clay bust of 13th Amendment author John Brooks Henderson is going through the “lost wax” casting process on its way to dedication ceremonies at 3:30 p.m. on June 30.

The process dates back more than 5,000 years and is being used by the Chesterfield foundry that is doing the work. Louisiana artist John Stoeckley designed the sculpture and is seeing it through each stage of development.

“There are a number of steps in this process,” Stoeckley explained. “First, the surface of my sculpture was coated with a latex coating. That latex mold was removed. Into that mold a surface of molten wax is applied in layers to build up a quarter-inch thick skin of wax.”

The next step “is a process of dipping the wax shell into a plaster bath,” he said. “This step is repeated until the wax replica has a substantial shell of plaster coating both sides of the wax.”

After the plaster hardens, the mold is placed in an oven. The wax melts and leaves a plaster cavity into which molten bronze is poured. While it sounds like things would be just about finished, Stoeckley said that’s hardly the case.

“Much hard work is needed at this point to weld parts together, repair seams, trim scrap bronze and prepare the surface for putting the final patina finish on the sculpture,” he said.

The bronze work should be completed in May. The dedication is scheduled for 3:30 p.m. June 30. The statue’s permanent home will be atop the Mississippi River bluff in Riverview Park, the city-owned land that Henderson and his wife, Mary, deeded to Louisiana in May 1903.

The Louisiana Bicentennial Committee is highlighting Henderson’s accomplishments as part of the city’s 200th anniversary.

Henderson was a native of Virginia who moved with his family to Missouri when he was six years old. By age 10, he was an orphan and his brother and two sisters were split up.

Henderson became a Pike County teacher and then a lawyer before being elected to the state legislature. He served as a Brigadier General in the Union Army at the outbreak of the Civil War.

In 1862, Henderson was appointed a U.S. Senator and within six weeks of arriving in Washington, he began regular meetings with President Abraham Lincoln.

Though a one-time slave owner himself, Henderson in 1864 drafted and introduced the 13th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution outlawing human bondage – the first time the nation’s founding document had been altered in 60 years.

Henderson also was a strong campaigner for women’s voting rights, supported better relations with Native Americans, fought against federal government corruption, was one of only seven Republicans who voted to acquit Democrat President Andrew Johnson of impeachment charges, and played a role in the temperance movement.

While Henderson was a strict constitutionalist, he embraced changes that would lead to a more equitable nation. The maverick served at various times as a Republican and a Democrat, but upset people of all parties.

The sculpture will be placed on a foundation measuring three-by-six feet. Donations to the effort and the bicentennial celebration are welcome. Information about making a contribution may be found at www.louisiana200.com.

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