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Prolific African American sculptor Frank Hayden (1934–1988) was born in Memphis, Tennessee. Hayden attended Catholic schools, where he developed a strong work ethic and a respect for his fellow man. The nuns at the school recognized his natural abilities, encouraged him to create art, and helped him apply to college. He earned a scholarship to Xavier University in New Orleans, where he received his first formal art training under Sister Mary Lurana Neely. Hayden continued his studies in Indiana at the University of Notre Dame in the studio of Croatian sculptor Ivan Meštrović. Following his graduate education, Hayden earned a Fulbright Fellowship that enabled him to study in Munich, Germany under sculptor Heinrich Kirchner.
Hayden was devoted to his Catholic faith and was passionate about combating civil injustice, often using his art to highlight biblical messages and to communicate issues central to the civil rights movement. Sixteen Men Make a Rod does both. The word rod has several meanings. In biblical usage, a rod refers to a line of family descent, or a tribe. It is also an old-English form of measurement equal to 16.5 feet. Voter rights were a central issue in the civil rights movement and remain an important political issue today. Here, a group of men stand heel-to-toe in line to vote. Each holds a “yes” or “no” ballot in his right hand. The front figure is about to cast his vote into the ballot box.
Frank Hayden moved to Baton Rouge in 1961 with his wife and four children. He joined the faculty of Southern University, where he taught drawing, sculpture, aesthetics, and art appreciation. During his twenty-seven year tenure at Southern, he mentored many students and became part of the local art scene. In 1985, Hayden was honored with the university’s first Distinguished Professor Award.
Frank Hayden, Sixteen Men Make a Rod, c. 1977. Honduran mahogany, 27 1/2 x 58 x 6 inches. Louisiana Art & Science Museum Collection, 1977.020.001
Hayden was actively involved in the Baton Rouge artistic community. Many residents remember his work from shows at Baton Rouge Gallery, where he was an artist member, and from his studio at Southern University, where he was a professor. LASM presented a retrospective exhibition of Hayden’s work in 2020 titled Frank Hayden: Lift Every Voice
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