Chicago artist Richard Hunt, sculptor of 'Hero Construction,' dies at 88

ByTre Ward and ABC7 Chicago Digital Team WLS logo
Sunday, December 17, 2023
Renowned Chicago sculptor Richard Hunt dies at 88
Chicago is remembering renowned artist Richard Hunt, who is known for his metal sculptures. He passed away peacefully at the age of 88 Saturday.

CHICAGO (WLS) -- Renowned Chicago artist and sculptor Richard Hunt has died at the age of 88.

Hunt may be best known for his "Hero Construction" sculpture, which resides at Chicago's Art Institute.

The artist passed away Saturday at his home, according to a press release announcing his death.

For those who have driven through Chicago's Loop or other parts of the City, you've likely seen his work on full display. In his decades-long career, the legendary sculptor has broken barriers through his art.

Hunt was born in Chicago on September 12, 1935, and he grew up on the city's South Side.

When he was 19 years old, Hunt attended Emmett Till's funeral.

"Richard was there to see that, and it really marks the beginning of Richard's preoccupation with freedom; both political freedom and artistic freedom," said Jon Ott, Hunt's biographer and vice-chair of the Richard Hunt Legacy Foundation.

The artist recently completed a sculpture called "Hero Ascending," which will soon be installed at the Emmett Till Monument site at Till's childhood home in Chicago.

Hunt was inspired by the 1953 "Sculpture of the Twentieth Century" and the tragedy of Till's 1955 death to begin his artist career in the 1950s.

His sculpture in Bronzeville is called "The Light of Truth," honoring journalist Ida B. Wells. It was one of the last pieces of work done by the legendary sculptor. In fact, it's the first sculpture in the City of Chicago honoring a Black woman and is a testament to Hunt's decades of service.

READ MORE | Chicago unveils Ida B Wells monument in Bronzeville

His hands have not only touched many parts of Chicago, but also the nation.

The artist was the first African American visual artist to serve on the National Council on the Arts, appointed by Lyndon B. Johnson in 1968.

Hunt's body of work includes major monuments and sculptures honoring iconic figures, such as Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

During his legendary career, Hunt received 18 honorary degrees, and he worked in 20 professorships and artist residencies at institutions including Harvard, Yale, Cornell, Northwestern, the School of the Art Institute, and the University of Illinois.

The State of Illinois recently proclaimed April 24 as "Richard Hunt Day" in Illinois.

SEE ALSO | 'Eternal Flame of Hope' sculpture erected to honor Special Olympics' 50th anniversary in Chicago

ABC7 Heart and Soul feature on Richard Hunt from December 2014.

Sculptor Richard Hunt showcases his 60-year collection at the Chicago Cultural Center.

Hunt described his work to ABC7 in 2014.

"They're not narrative," Hunt said. "It's open to a variety of interpretations, and I think that it should be a spring board to making your own associations."

Former President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama issued a statement:

Richard Hunt was an acclaimed sculptor and one of the finest artists ever to come out of Chicago. Michelle and I are thinking of Richard's family today - and we are eternally grateful that his sculpture, "Book Bird," will sit outside a new branch of the Chicago Public Library at the Obama Presidential Center. It will be an inspiration for visitors from around the world, and an enduring reminder of a remarkable man.

"To have one of the greatest artists Chicago ever produced to participate in what we hope is an important cultural institution for the City and the South Side, it feels like a pretty good fit to me," President Obama said when talking with the artist about "Book Bird" in 2022. ""It will be an inspiration for visitors from around the world, and an enduring reminder of a remarkable man."

A fondness from the Obamas was felt even in Hunt's final moments.

"The President had visited Richard just this Monday evening, spent time by his side," Ott said. "It was an extraordinary moment for Richard."

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Hunt is survived by his daughter Cecilia and his sister Marian, who both live in Chicago.

A private funeral service will be held in Chicago. A public celebration of Hunt's legacy will be planned for spring 2024.

Mayor Brandon Johnson also issued a statement Saturday about Hunt's passing:

We are deeply saddened to learn of the passing of Richard Hunt, visionary Chicago sculptor and activist. A lifelong Chicagoan, his extraordinary career spanning 70 years leaves an indelible impact on our city and our world. With more than 160 works across the United States, Chicago is home to many of Hunt's monumental pieces, including "Flight Forms" at Midway Airport, "Jacob's Ladder" at the Woodson Regional Library, and the 2021 Ida B. Wells Memorial in Bronzeville. In 2014, Hunt was celebrated with a career retrospective, "Richard Hunt: 60 Years of Sculpture," at the Chicago Cultural Center and with featured works at the Museum of Contemporary Art. We extend our sincere condolences to his family, friends and the cultural community. Richard's legacy will live on for generations to come.