They looked as expectant statesmen should, concerned but controlled. Abe Lincoln sat stiffly, his knee on the verge of jiggling nervously. FDR clasped his hands and gazed heavenward. Only Ronald Reagan, true to form, appeared to have not a care in the world.
Most of the 18 statues of Presidents gathered in lower Manhattan last week seemed eerily poised for a moment of decision. But they weren’t saying whether they thought Bush or Dukakis was presidential timber, possibly because of a certain woodenness of their own. Their creator, sculptor T.P. (Timothy Patrick) Moynihan, had done his best to avoid partisanship in selecting a roster of Presidents for his debut show, at the Vorpal Gallery. “I didn’t want just Democrats and Republicans and Federalists,” he explained. “I wanted Whigs, too.”
Moynihan’s father, U.S. Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan, himself running for reelection, was equally diplomatic. Asked at the opening reception if he had a favorite among the presidential dummies, which are priced from $4,000 to $12,000, the New York Democrat replied without hesitation, “I have no favorites among my children, and I have no favorites among my children’s work.”
Tim, 32, who has a younger sister and brother, says he takes after his artistic mother, Liz, an architectural historian, rather than his floridly ratiocinative father. “There are only two things I know more about than my dad,” he says, “and that’s comic strips and Genghis Khan.” Tim sold his first political cartoon, about President Nixon, to the Boston Globe at the age of 14. After graduating from high school (“barely,” he admits), he supplemented his scant income as a cartoonist by selling life-size dummies of such notables as Winston Churchill, H.L. Mencken and the Three Stooges to friends and collectors.
For his show at the Vorpal, Moynihan sought a theme that “would be very easily grasped by people hearing about the show.” The idea of creating an ensemble of Presidents came to him when he thought of Dwight Eisenhower. “He just struck me as having the face of a Roman general,” says Moynihan. “The fact that my dad is a politician I don’t think played a large part.” The young sculptor got started by going to the library. “I wound up learning all the history I slept through in high school,” he says. Over the course of a year, he then built wire-covered wood frames for the figures, padding them with foam rubber and layers of heavy clothing under a “skin” of brown paper toweling soaked in clear vinyl. Moynihan does not intend to do all 39 commanders in chief. “The ones left are people like Chester Alan Arthur and Franklin Pierce, and they’re not that interesting,” he says. “I’d like to try some authors. I want to get away from doing old, white American men.”