Life in Art at the Marshall Fredericks Sculpture Museum

Life in Art at the Marshall Fredericks Sculpture Museum

I recently stopped at the Marshall Fredericks Sculpture Museum during my #MittenTrip to Midland. Until this trip, I didn’t know that this museum existed nor the extensive role Fredericks played in Michigan art. This museum, located on the campus of Saginaw Valley State University, is an example of the many gems of culture and art that exist across the Awesome Mitten. The sculpture on its exterior, Youth in the Hands of God, gives a small taste of the grandeur that awaits inside.

The Sculptures

Marshall Fredericks Sculpture Museum Christ on the Cross.  Photo Courtesy of Margaret Clegg
This is one of the largest depictions of Christ in the world.  Photo Courtesy of Margaret Clegg

As you enter you cannot help but be amazed by the 28-foot full-scale model of Christ on the Cross. Affixed to the wall with special brackets, this sculpture appears to be floating in air. The corresponding bronze fixture took only three years to construct, and installation of the finished piece in Indian River, Michigan occurred in 1959.

Spirituality is a theme in many of Fredericks’ sculptures, such as a series that he did called Saints and Sinners. These seven statutes include a statue of the Holy Mother and Child. Located opposite of the Christ sculpture, it appears as they are being watching over them. Every year the Marshall Fredericks Sculpture Museum holds a Saints & Sinners gala, usually held near the month of October.

Marshall Fredericks Sculpture Museum Spirit of Detroit
Marshall Fredericks did not charge the city of Detroit for the creation of this statue. Photo Courtesy Margaret Clegg

A model of Spirit of Detroit sits to the right of the cross. This is without question one of Marshall Fredericks’ best known sculptures. Standing up close the the model, noticeably smaller than the 26-foot tall sculpture on Woodward Avenue, allows you to appreciate every small detail. It took Fredericks’ seven years to complete the project, and it was the largest statue made of bronze since the era of the Renaissance. The finished piece, estimated at more than a million dollars, has become a priceless symbol of Detroit. One might say, for those living in Michigan, it is as important as the Statue of Liberty.

Marshall Fredericks Sculpture Museum Fountain of Eternal Life
Flames surround the torso of the man as he reaches skyward. Photo courtesy of Margaret Clegg

Fountain of Eternal Life displays Marshall Fredericks’ fascination with the theme of freedom and the human spirit. The model on display at the museum is only a sample of the larger World War II memorial and surrounding fountains. The city of Cleveland commissioned the full bronze statue, which took almost 20 years to complete. The plaster model at the Marshall Fredericks Sculpture Museum stands grandly in the main windows, and the sunlight highlights the intricate designs on the globe-like pedestal on which he stands. Meanwhile, the Cleveland statute is lit at night, giving the impression of a man arising from the flames. Due to this, the piece is also known as “Peace Arising from the Flames of War.”

These pieces are just a sample of the many interesting items on display at the Marshall Fredericks Sculpture Museum. For example, The Lion and the Mouse is displayed both in plaster and bronze, so that the viewer can see how a model translates to a finished work. There is also a bust of John F. Kennedy that Fredericks created from a composite of drawings. Sculptures fill and extend outside the building, including a bronze statue of Black Elk, a spiritual leader of the North American Indians.

The Man

Marshall Frederick Sculpture Museum Exterior
The Night and Day Fountain welcomes visitors in the Sculpture Garden. Photo Courtesy of Margaret Clegg

To better understand his art, it’s important to know who Marshall Fredericks was as a person, as well. Most importantly, he chose to make Michigan his home. Born in Illinois and a world traveler, he cemented his life in the mitten state when an invitation to teach at Cranbrook Academy of Art initially brought him to our state in 1932. Cranbrook Academy of Art has educated many amazing artists, such as Nick Cave, Tony Rosenthal, and Charles Eames.

Fredericks stopped teaching in 1942, due to his desire to enlist in the armed forces during World War II. After the war ended, he resided in Birmingham until his passing in 1998. His passion for teaching and his love for children continues, as this museum now uses his art to teach college students and young people the beauty and importance of art in the world.

One quote of his really struck me: “I want more than anything in the world to do sculpture which will have real meaning for other people, many people, and might in some way encourage, inspire, or give them happiness.”

My visit to this museum truly inspired me and stirred me with a sense of awe. It also makes me want to travel to see his many sculptures located in public places around greater Detroit. While the Marshall Fredericks-dedicated website and Flickr pages can give you glimpses of his work, seeing the art and process in person at this free museum is the best way for art lovers to embrace his talent and contributions.

Marshall Fredericks Sculpture Museum is located at 7400 Bay Rd in University Center, MI. They are open Monday – Friday 11 am – 5 pm and Saturday 12 pm – 5 pm.

Where do you go to find inspiring artists and their work in Michigan? Let us know in the comments!