The Havel Bust, In The Sculptor’s Own Words

On Wednesday, House leaders dedicated a bust of Václav Havel, the Czech playwright who led the Velvet Revolution and became president of his country after three stays in prison.  At the ceremony, Speaker Boehner paid tribute to Havel’s humility and “the great things ordinary people can achieve.”

Indeed, just as Havel’s story is compelling, so is that of Lubomir Janecka, the sculptor of the bust.   According to the Václav Havel Library Foundation, Janecka was born in Czechoslovakia, but because of his art, was forced into exile after years of harassment by the communist party.  He fled to the United States in 1984, and has lived here ever since.

What follows, in Janecka’s own moving words, is a description of the Capitol’s newest bust and the process behind its creation:   

I started working on the portrait of Vaclav Havel in the summer 2012. As I was reading his books and plays and going through hundreds of his photographs, I became interested in him not only as a politician but as a human being. I searched how to best express his personality, and in that process, I created several portraits, each from a different stage of his life. I covered the years of his youth spent in dissent, the time when he was repeatedly imprisoned, the Velvet Revolution, his presidency, as well as the last years of his life when he was fighting a serious illness.

I ended up with nine sketches in clay or plaster. All of them had a potential to be fully developed and become legitimate portraits of this extraordinary man, but I had to pick one. I chose the portrait from the time shortly after the Velvet Revolution. While working on its version for the Capitol, I realized that this was also the time when Vaclav Havel came to Washington DC to give the speech to the U.S. Congress. I called the portrait Vaclav Havel Victorious, and I hope that this is how American people remember him: full of life and full of hope – for his country and for the world.

Modeling of Havel’s bust is expressive. My goal was to capture his clear and open nature, unwavering firmness of his convictions, and his kindness to people.  The bust is cast in bronze and gilded with gold. I finished it with some patina applied over the gold. The whole bust should evoke an image of a nugget of gold.

The pedestal is made of magpie granite from Canada. When I was working on it, I used very little polishing. My approach to carving of the pedestal needed to correspond with my approach to modeling of the portrait. On the surface of the pedestal, I did not suppress the chisel marks completely because I wanted to preserve certain drama of the stone’s surface. The bust and pedestal together form a monolithic object. My goal was to create a sculpture that gives an impression of a living (not a static) artefact.

The bronze and the gold of the letters, Czech lion, and Czech coat of arms echo the bronze and the gold of the bust.

The Czech lion on the left side of the pedestal refers to the history of the Czech statehood. The double – tailed lion appears as a symbol of the Czech ruling dynasty already in the 13th century.

The coat of arms on the front of the pedestal is the current official symbol of the Czech Republic, which displays Czech lion, Moravian Eagle, and Silesian eagle – symbols of the three historical regions of Czech lands.

There are three small stones inserted into the granite. All three of them come from the Czech Republic.

Agate, placed by the quotation, comes from the region of Cesky raj (Czech Paradise). Agate was one of the native semiprecious stones that the Emperor Charles IV used to decorate the walls of the Chapel of Saint Wenceslas, the Czech Patron Saint, in the Saint Vitus Cathedral at the Prague Castle. The Prague Castle is a very strong symbol of the statehood and the independence of the Czech nation.

Vltavin, or moldavite, is a gemstone that can be found almost exclusively in the watershed of the Vltava River, and its name is derived from the name of the river. Vltava runs through Prague, and it is a legendary river to all Czechs. Vaclav Havel used to live in the house on the right bank of this river in Prague.

The third small stone is an ordinary rock from the garden of a summer house of Vaclav Havel at Hradecek. He spent a lot of time in this modest house already during his dissident years. He used to meet his friends there, he worked there and rested there. In December 2011, he peacefully passed away in this house.

I have inserted the three stones into the Vaclav Havel bust pedestal as a gentle reminder of his country and its people, who loved him and respected him, and who miss him now not only as a politician but as a good and courageous man.

Currently on display in National Statuary Hall, the bust will soon move to Freedom Foyer, joining Winston Churchill, Lajos Kossuth, Abraham Lincoln, and George Washington. 

NOTE: Photo of the sculptor courtesy of the Václav Havel Library Foundation.