Jim Brothers, Kansas sculptor who memorialized military heroism, dies at 72


Mr. Brothers works on a sculpture of a World War II medic following a soldier onto the shores of France on D-Day. (AP Photo/Lawrence Journal World, Mike Yoder)
August 24, 2013

Jim Brothers, a sculptor whose statues of wartime sacrifice became centerpieces of the National D-Day Memorial in Bedford, Va., and who crafted a likeness of Dwight D. Eisenhower that stands in the U.S. Capitol, died Aug. 20 in his art studio in Lawrence, Kan. He was 72.

The cause was cancer, said his wife, Kathleen Correll.

Mr. Brothers, a noted creator of public art in the United States, was perhaps an unexpected memorializer of military heroism. He protested U.S. involvement in the Vietnam War and once told an interviewer that he thought it was “immoral to send your kids to a war we can’t win.”

“But I have always believed in the soldier and always will,” said Mr. Brothers, a nephew of World War II veterans.

He was best known in the Washington region for his works at the D-Day Memorial, which was dedicated by President George W. Bush in 2001 and draws tens of thousands of visitors each year. The monument honors the military personnel who stormed the beaches and scaled the fortified cliffs of Normandy on June 6, 1944, the largest such amphibious assault in history.


Mr. Brothers in his Lawrence, Kan., studio with the original clay sculpture for his bronze of Dwight D. Eisenhower that was placed in the U.S. Capitol in 2003. (AP Photo/Lawrence Journal World, Mike Yoder)

Creators of the memorial chose to build it in Bedford, a town in the Blue Ridge foothills that is often said to have sustained greater D-Day casualties per capita than any other community in the United States. Twenty-three “Bedford Boys” died in the Normandy campaign, including 19 who reportedly lost their lives during the first 15 minutes of the battle.

Mr. Brothers — who described the artist “as almost a channeler” of history and human experience — immersed himself in a study of the invasion, interviewing veterans and visiting the beaches. “Death on Shore,” one of 12 sculptures he created for the memorial, was inspired by the story of Raymond Hoback, a Bedford Boy who died along with his brother and whose Bible was returned to his family after his death.

The sculpture shows a dying soldier, his rucksack open to reveal the holy book.

Other sculptures at the memorial, described as showing “photo quality” craftsmanship, include “Through the Surf,” “Across the Beach” and “Scaling the Wall.”

“It’s for the veterans to look at and see in it people they knew,” Mr. Brothers told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. “These are the people we want to say thanks to.”

His statue of Eisenhower — who grew up in Kansas and became supreme Allied commander during World War II and later president — was unveiled for the Capitol’s Statuary Hall collectionin 2003. Mr. Brothers later built a statue of Eisenhower for the D-Day Memorial, basing the work on a photograph of the general conversing with troops the day before the invasion.

“On the morning of June 5, he had the fate of the free world in his hands,” Mr. Brothers told the Roanoke Times, “and he said, ‘Let’s go.’ He said it was the hardest thing he’d ever done in his life, sending those boys to their deaths, and he wanted to talk to them first. Talk to them, not address them.”

Mr. Brothers said historical research indicated that, at one point, Eisenhower and his men may have been discussing fly fishing.

James Edward Brothers was born on Aug. 15, 1941, in Eureka, Kan., and grew up on what he described as “the poor side of town.” His aunt was an artist.

In 1963, he received a bachelor’s degree in fine arts from Phillips University in Enid, Okla., and he later received a bachelor’s degree in education from Emporia State University in Kansas.

He held a series of jobs that led directly or indirectly to his career as a sculptor: He worked as a high school art teacher, as a commercial illustrator and at a wastewater lift station where he learned welding techniques. He once made a sculpture from used car hoods because he could not afford finer supplies.

Mr. Brothers began to establish himself as an artist on the West Coast, where he helped run a foundry, and returned to his home in Kansas to launch his career. Among his projects, his wife said, were a sculpture for the governor’s residence and the restoration of architectural details on the state Capitol in Topeka.

Paul Dorrell, an art agent, promoted Mr. Brothers and helped him land some of his first large projects in the 1990s. They included a memorial in Los Angeles to the Depression-era Civilian Conservation Corps and a sculpture of Mark Twain displayed in Hartford, Conn., the author’s longtime home.

His work on a statue of Gen. Omar Bradley brought him to the attention of D-Day museum designers. A smaller model of the towering original Bradley work is displayed at the Pentagon, according to his wife.

Survivors include his partner of 20 years, Kathleen Correll of Lawrence, whom he married last month; a son from a previous marriage, Edward Brothers of Lawrence; his mother, Jean Matthews Brothers of Lawrence; and a half-sister.

April Cheek-Messier, president of the National D-Day Memorial Foundation, said that “Homage,” Mr. Brothers’s 12th and final contribution to the site, will be dedicated next year on the 70th anniversary of the D-Day invasion.

“Sculpture is my way to immortality,” Mr. Brothers told the Roanoke Times. “Some people do it with their kids. I do it with my work.”

Emily Langer is a reporter on The Washington Post’s obituaries desk. She has written about national and world leaders, celebrated figures in science and the arts, and heroes from all walks of life.
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