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Sculptor Glenna Goodacre's Vietnam Memorial Is the First to Honor the Women Who Served : For the Forgotten

April 29, 1992|MICHAEL HAEDERLE | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

SANTA FE, N.M. — Prowling the winding, adobe-walled streets of town in her red luxury sports coupe, Glenna Goodacre is always on the lookout for potential models.

"Did you see her?" Goodacre exclaims, peering into the rearview mirror at the receding image of a woman walking down the sidewalk. "I think I know where she works."

In a couple of months, Goodacre will gather the models she has recruited--three women and a man--in her spacious studio and embark on the most important sculpture of her career: the Vietnam Women's Memorial.

The completed bronze figurative sculpture will stand nearly 7 feet tall. It will take its place on the Mall in Washington, D.C., a few hundred feet from the long black slab of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial and a sculpture of three GIs by artist Frederick Hart.

It is clear from the arrangement of the figures in the 2-foot-tall wax model in Goodacre's studio that she wants the sculpture to be viewed in the round.

In the painted model, called a maquette, a nurse sits on sandbags cradling a wounded soldier in her lap. A second woman stands to one side, her hand on the nurse's shoulder as she looks anxiously skyward, perhaps waiting for a medevac helicopter. Her back to the other two, a third woman kneels, holding a helmet in her right hand, her eyes cast down in an expression of despair.

"This has more emotion and passion and feeling than anything I've done," Goodacre says in her flat West-Texas twang. "To get all that over in hard bronze is a challenge."

For the 52-year-old Goodacre, the memorial is the high point of a career that has already brought both recognition and financial success.

Her larger-than-life bronzes have been commissioned as public art throughout the United States, while private collectors buy her work for as much as $165,000 in galleries in New York, Dallas, Santa Fe and Newport Beach.

Sunlight pours in through windows set high in the 18-foot walls of the studio Goodacre designed herself. The studio and adjacent guest house occupy prime real estate in the heart of Santa Fe's Canyon Road district, where many artists live and work. A set of 12-foot-high French doors allows her to wheel sculptures in and out on large dollies. Mirrors line one wall so she can see her work and her models from various angles.

A staff of four assists Goodacre on her projects and runs an office equipped with computers, copiers and fax machines.

The sculptor is in perpetual motion, supervising the installation of a piece while keeping track of works in progress and planning for future projects. She logs considerable time on airplanes, traveling from one meeting to the next.

"I'm working harder now than I ever was when I was starting out," she says.

Despite the travel and schmoozing, Goodacre is a working artist. Her firm handshake attests to the hours she puts in shaping wax and plaster models or molding clay to welded steel frames.

Goodacre, who favors loose, button-up shirts, jeans and flat-soled shoes when she is working, is comfortable leaning back in a chair and propping her feet up on a desk when it's time for a chat.

She was born Glendell Maxey in Lubbock, Tex., the daughter of a prosperous builder and lumber wholesaler. Glenna and her sister were raised in ultraconservative surroundings, but her parents nurtured her interest in art from an early age, providing her with private lessons. She won a blue ribbon in a county fair art contest when she was 11.

She graduated from Colorado College with a BA in art in 1961 and married her college sweetheart, Bill Goodacre. Children Tim and Jill were born a few years later.

"I did just what was expected of me. I went to college, got my degree, got married and had children," she says. Despite her family responsibilities, Goodacre never stopped painting and drawing. "I always had an easel set up in either the kitchen or the living room," she says.

Six weeks of study at the Art Students League in New York City in 1967 instilled in Goodacre a deeper commitment to her art. Two years later, Lubbock gallery owner Forrest Fenn encouraged her to start sculpting, and by 1972, Goodacre was exhibiting her work at a gallery Fenn had opened in Santa Fe.

Goodacre established herself as a sculptor during the 1970s, winning sculpture and design competitions and joining a number of galleries around the country. The family moved to Boulder in 1974, and it was there, while still in high school, that Goodacre's daughter Jill started modeling.

Photos and magazine covers of Jill, 28--a high-profile model known for appearing in the Victoria's Secret catalogue--are scattered around Goodacre's studio. (Son Tim, 29, is a real estate broker in Boulder.)

Jill is also engaged to singer-pianist Harry Connick Jr.

"I love Harry's music and I love Harry," Glenna Goodacre says. "Harry's the nicest kid. All mothers would wish that their daughters would marry a Harry."

Glenna Goodacre moved to Santa Fe in 1983 after the break-up of her 23-year-marriage to Bill Goodacre, a Boulder real estate broker.

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