With his rosy cheeks and rosette-laden lapel, Felix de Weldon -- sculptor of the Iwo Jima Memorial and 2,000 other public sculptures -- is, at 83, something of a national monument himself.

Diminutive in stature, eyes a bright clear blue, only his disheveled reddish-brown toupee and white lies about age hint at vanity. Red, white and blue, he stands foursquare behind the flag and, just last week, was seen on national television standing foursquare behind President Bush after presenting him with a 66th birthday present: a small bronze replica of the Iwo Jima Memorial. Bush used the event to call for a constitutional amendment to ban flag desecration by the Fourth of July.

Earlier this week, de Weldon walked through his own latest photo opportunity, "Legends and Myths: Sculpture by Felix de Weldon," the first commercial gallery show for this master of memorial tonnage, this artist with statues on every continent. He seemed pleased.

"It looks wonderful," he said, hugging a female employee of Georgetown's new Merrill Chase Galleries -- a large enterprise that has five outlets in Chicago. A representative from the home office had come to town especially to train employees in the art of selling the newly minted de Weldon sculptures, the first he's ever produced on domestic scale for the mass market.

Three of these works -- a classical figure of Aphrodite, a standing mother holding two children, and "Humanity," a negative-relief head of Christ with eyes that follow as you pass by -- are the real reason for this show. But they are, as is appropriate, set in the context of several models and photographs and framed citations related to de Weldon's memorials and portrait busts of heroes, presidents and kings. Among them, none of them for sale: "The Flag Raising on Iwo Jima" (more properly, the Marine Corps War Memorial) in Arlington; the monument to Adm. Richard E. Byrd in Antarctica; the National Monument for Malaysia, in Kuala Lumpur; the portrait of Eisenhower at the Kennedy Center's Eisenhower Theater; Harry Truman at the Truman Library; and John F. Kennedy at the Kennedy Library. He served on the Fine Arts Commission here under all three presidents.

De Weldon has 30 works in Washington alone, ranging in size from the equestrian statue of Simon Bolivar near the Pan American Union to a marble copy of Michelangelo's "Pieta" at St. Matthew's Cathedral. The gallery has printed a small map for those who'd like to make the Washington tour.

But it is the Iwo Jima Memorial that catapulted de Weldon to fame, during World War II. An immigrant from Austria, where he was born the prodigious son of a wealthy textile manufacturer (killed by Soviet bombs at the end of World War II), de Weldon had begun bagging a large share of public commissions in Vienna at age 17, beating out his own art professor. After studies in Paris, Rome and Madrid, he headed for Oxford and London in the '30s, where he soon was engaged doing portraits of society's upper echelons, including British Prime Minister David Lloyd George and two kings named George, V and VI.

From there he went hand over hand, connection over connection, from Europe to Canada, then to the United States, where he enlisted in the Navy as an aviation combat artist. He was stationed at the Patuxent Naval Air Station in Southern Maryland, he recalls, when the big break came.

"I was in the middle of painting the Battle of the Coral Sea when a wire service photo came into the admiral's office showing American Marines raising the flag over Mount Suribachi on Iwo Jima," he says. "They came in every day, but this one, by Joe Rosenthal of AP, was extraordinary. It showed the unison of action, the forward drive, the will to sacrifice, to hold the flag high." (One assumes he's said these words before.)

"That was Friday, Feb. 23, 1945," he recalled, "the same day the flag-raising took place. I immediately set to work on a model, working all day and all night for three days, and produced a wax model three feet high." His commanding officer, recognizing its potential importance as a symbolic rallying cry during that dark, bloody time (6,321 Marines lost their lives there in 35 days), sent de Weldon and the wax to Navy headquarters in Washington.

He still remembers the sound of applause as the piece was wheeled down the corridor from the office of the Navy high command to that of the commandant of the Marine Corps.

"The commandant called me in and said, 'How'd you like temporary duty with the Marines? I've been 'with' the Marines ever since.' "

That first model had been improvised: "There were no real sculpture materials, but there was lots of floor wax, which was too soft, and sealing wax, which was too hard, so I melted and combined them," says the master craftsman. "The secretary of the treasury then asked if I could make a nine-foot-tall version for the opening of a war bond drive six months later. And I did."

That plaster-and-stone version stood for three years across from the temporary Navy buildings, then on Constitution Avenue. Eventually, it was moved to Quantico -- apparently by a Lt. John Warner, now the U.S. senator. At Quantico, de Weldon carved another, more permanent version from Indiana limestone.

In the meantime, de Weldon had been mustered out of the service and -- by a joint resolution of Congress -- commissioned to produce the 78-foot-high sculpture that now stands in Arlington. In a rented 18th-century studio on Capitol Hill, where the pediment of the U.S. Capitol had been carved by Paul W. Bartlett, de Weldon set to work on the project with a crew of riggers, welders, carpenters and plasterers. It took six years.

Though he had received only his Navy pay until then, he was promised $600,000 to complete the work, including all costs of building the model in plaster and casting it in bronze. (The total, including pedestal, was $850,000 according to reports at the time, $1.2 million according to de Weldon.) The money was quickly raised by subscription through the Marine Corps War Memorial Fund. "Each Marine had to give $1, and there were 600,000 Marines, so it was done in two years."

"It cost more than I got," says de Weldon, who claims he financed the statue from 1946 to 1952, when he received the first payment. "As the years went on, we had quite a struggle to finance it. It was cast in New York, and the cost was enormous."

The 100-ton bronze, cast in Brooklyn, was finally dedicated on Nov. 10, 1954, and de Weldon -- along with millions of others who still remember those dark days -- have been reaping its rewards ever since.

There was some controversy, but not much. Opposition was expressed in an Art News story in 1955 about Washington's "monumental sculptural errors," a general complaint that the National Sculpture Society had a lock on nearly all government commissions at the time. The writer described the society as a "tightly governed and mainly academic group of sculptors." De Weldon, she said, was "a portrait sculptor in England {who} came to this country with an impressive social backing which eased his entree into top Washington circles." She was right about that.

But de Weldon has never claimed a beachhead among the avant-garde. "In the beginning, I did modernistic works, but I decided it was all experimentation. Instead of welding together parts of a damaged car and giving it a fancy name, I based my work on the old masters. My teachers were Praxiteles and Phidias, the ancient Greeks.

"But not the Romans," he says. "They copied the Greeks. I'm not a copier."

Asked politely whether the Iwo Jima Memorial was not, in fact, a monument to a photograph, he replies, "Not at all. The photograph has one side. My sculpture has four sides.

"I didn't work from the photograph," he says. "It just gave me the inspiration, but I didn't copy it. You only see four men in the photograph -- there were actually six. Only the first man is the same as in my monument -- the one who pushes the flagpole into the ground. That pole was a Japanese lead water pipe, and extremely heavy, and that's what made it so effective -- they really had to push hard."

De Weldon also used combat film to help work out his design, which he intensified, he says, into a pyramidal composition.

The flag, by the way, became a real flag only after the bronze one on the midsize model got blown out of shape in the wind, "just like spaghetti," according to de Weldon.

As for the controversial question of whether the photograph was posed -- some said the action was staged a second time because photographers weren't present when it actually happened -- de Weldon says absolutely not. "They raised a small flag that morning," he says, but the troops on the beach couldn't see it. "One of the Marines got a larger flag from a destroyer, and when they put that up, the picture was taken." Rosenthal, who was last heard from somewhere in San Francisco, could not be reached for comment.

"It's my design -- I can have it reproduced," says de Weldon of the small new version he made as a gift to President Bush. "I own the copyright combined with the Franklin Mint. If they make more, they have to give me a royalty."

Rosenthal received the Pulitzer Prize.

Meanwhile, de Weldon -- for this week, at least -- is concentrating on his new sculptures at Merrill Chase, whose affiliated Sculpture Group Ltd. has, so far, published only three of a series of 18 projected sculptures, which are being issued in "limited editions" of 250 each, plus 60 "artists proofs" for de Weldon. That's potentially 5,580 de Weldon sculptures at prices ranging from $5,950 to $7,950. "Humanity," the head of Christ with thorns, costs $500 more with a frame.

The sculptor, as well as the dealers and publishers, stands to profit mightily from the project -- if it sells -- though he surely doesn't seem to need the cash. Along with his studios in Washington and Rome, he has a studio near his historic "cottage" in Newport, R.I., which boasts 18 bathrooms and 14 fireplaces. "I'll always be clean and warm," says de Weldon, who was widowed four years ago, but has two teenage sons by two other women, one of whom was briefly his second wife.

As he walked among his memories and models, his faded color photographs of himself with various notables, his citations from the DAR and others extolling his patriotism -- all part of this show -- he recalled one more project. It wasn't on view, but it obviously meant a lot to him.

"Actually," he said proudly, "they have a monument at Patuxent saying that the original scale model of the Iwo Jima statue was made there, right in that building."

And who made that one?

"Me," he replied.

The gallery is at 3300 M St. NW. Hours are 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. Monday through Friday, 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. Saturday, and 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Sunday.