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Civil Rights-era sculptor honored in lecture

| Wednesday, January 22, 2020

In honor of Notre Dame’s Walk the Walk Week, Darius A. Spieth, an alumni professor at Louisiana State University, delivered a lecture titled “Frank Hayden: A Mid-Century Sculptor between Catholicism and the Civil Rights Movement” at Notre Dame’s Snite Museum on Tuesday afternoon.

Hayden’s work includes some of the first busts of Martin Luther King Jr. ever to be commissioned.

Chelsey Boyle
Darius Spieth, left, and Percy Pierre, right, discuss sculptor Frank Hayden’s legacy in a Tuesday lecture at the Snite Museum of Art. Hayden was one of the foremost sculptors of the Civil Rights-era and created some of the first commissioned busts of Martin Luther King, Jr.

Modern art or architecture and the Catholic Church had not always gotten along with each other, but Hayden sought to introduce modern design using inexpensive materials to incite new expression in Catholic churches. His work aided reformation and modernism in southern Catholic churches, and his mahogany crucifixes, carved Stations of the Cross and stone statues of Mary and Joseph can be seen in parishes throughout the South.

The artist was shot to death in 1988 in Louisiana. His son was arrested for murdering him.

Spieth, an art historian who specializes in eighteenth and nineteenth century art, was familiar with Frank Hayden’s work. He decided to research his work and share the sculptor’s story at Notre Dame because, in Spieth’s view, Hayden is under-appreciated.

“[He is] an artist that deserved to be rediscovered,” Spieth said.

Hayden received his Master of Fine Arts at Notre Dame from 1957-1959 while studying under-renowned sculptor Ivan Mestrovic. Mestrovic, according to Spieth, praised Hayden as “a talented young man who promises to become a very good artist.” Hayden was one of the premiere artists of his time who was able to use his art to change the Church to fit the needs of the black Catholic community, Spieth said.

“[Hayden is] the foremost African American sculptor of the Civil Rights period,” he said.

Hayden’s former friend and fellow academic Percy Pierre also attended the lecture. Pierre assisted Spieth in his research and provided more personal context on Hayden’s life after the lecture. He maintains that Hayden deserves to receive more recognition at Notre Dame because he had such a strong connection to the University.

Pierre, who attended Notre Dame for graduate school, remembered that while they were both on campus, they were joined only by approximately 15 other African American students.

Pierre and Hayden would hold discussions on campus in the evenings about African American affairs in South Bend’s black community. These discussions would serve as inspiration for what would end up being Hayden’s collection of sketches titled “Black and White.”

These drawings reflect painful truths during this time: a segregated Catholic Church, lack of voting rights and the marching of Martin Luther King Jr. and other activists,” Spieth said.

Pierre believes that Hayden’s passion and commitment to his work in the M.F.A. department, as well as his work celebrating African American culture and the Catholic Church, should be more recognized at the University today.

This lecture was the first event at an academic institution to honor Hayden’s work and memory. Hayden had always believed in the power of education and the inspiration of his art — making the inaugural lecture incredibly significant, Pierre said.

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