Sculpting Obama

Written by: 
Michelle Hale

Sonya Vasquez with her finished wax sculpture of Barack Obama. (photo by Michael Clements)

For months Sonya Vasquez was preoccupied with images of Barack Obama. She surrounded herself with magazine covers and articles bearing his picture and spent hours watching and re-watching footage of his days on the campaign trail. While many Americans were studying the candidate's position on political issues, Vasquez was studying his demeanor, his gestures, his face.

Vasquez sculpts the eerily life-like figures installed at Louis Tussaud's Palace of Wax in Grand Prairie. When she began her job in 1998, she became the only full-time wax sculptor in Texas and one of only a few in the world. Shortly after the November election, Vasquez – who studied sculpture and communication design at UNT from 1995-1998 – was given the green light to create Obama's likeness as the newest edition for the museum's Hall of Presidents

The new figure was unveiled April 15.


Making Obama smile

"I enjoyed sculpting Obama," Vasquez says. "He has an interesting face. The smiling expression was chosen by the people at our head office when he was still campaigning and was all smiles. It's always more challenging to sculpt someone smiling."

Some of Vasquez' other pieces include former President George W. Bush and her personal favorite, Johnny Cash. Since she finished Obama, Vasquez has started work on a new figure – pop princess Miley Cyrus.

"She's been very difficult," Vasquez says. "She's at an age when she's still growing and changing quickly."


The evolution from drawing to sculpting

Vasquez began drawing pictures of people when she was a child, but never thought about sculpting 3-D images of people until she visited a wax museum.  It didn't take long for her to translate her love of drawing human subjects into a love for sculpting them.

"I have always loved the challenge of drawing and later, sculpting portraits," she says. "No two are the same.  Trying to sculpt a likeness is like trying to solve a puzzle."


Taking UNT's lessons back to the studio

Later Vasquez enrolled at UNT and focused on learning to create portraits. Though she never gave up on her dream to produce sculptures of people, she also studied graphic design as a sort of back-up plan.

"I knew it was going to be hard to find a job as a sculptor," she says. "So I did the graphic design work, too, just in case."

Lessons she learned at UNT – paying attention to shapes, observing color and shading, recreating texture – are all things she uses today to produce her art. She says she also found that the discussions she had with other artists about how people interpret art helped her to enrich and evolve her work.


Living her dream

Vasquez says she is lucky because every day she gets to go to her dream job.

"It's always rewarding when I see a likeness starting to come together."

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