Meet Kristen Visbal, the Lewes Sculptor Behind That Viral "Fearless Girl" Statue
The artist responsible for the statue that rocked NYC's Wall Street discusses how long it took to create, her thoughts on its emotional resonance, and what she's working on now.
Kristen Visbal's statue of a young girl stares down Wall Street's iconic "Charging Bull."//Courtesy of Kristen Visbal
Ever since "Fearless Girl" ascended on New York's Wall Street on March 8 in celebration of International Women’s Day, people around the world wanted to know where she came from. The woman behind her creation is Lewes artist and sculptor Kristen Visbal, who apprenticed at the prestigious Johnson Atelier Art Foundry and has created numerous public works and monuments, including an 12-foot-high bronze monument of Alexander Hamilton. “Fearless Girl” was meant to be a temporary display, but New York mayor Bill de Blasio recently prolonged her stay until at least 2018.
What did McCann New York (an advertising agency) and State Street Global Advisors (an investment firm) initially say to you when they contacted you about the project?
I was contacted about the project on Nov. 30 of last year. A group at McCann New York wanted to do something with gender diversity and Wall Street’s “Charging Bull,” so they went looking for a female sculptor who could mold a child.
Why a child, and what was the significance of the statue’s placement?
A child is endearing and represents the future of tomorrow. “Charging Bull” represents the financial community. We are making the statement that women are a part of the business community on a global scale and that little girls will be leaders.
Why did State Street Global Advisors want to promote gender diversity?
State Street Global Advisors has been an advocate for gender diversity in the workplace. They wanted to highlight the message that if you put women in leadership positions, the result is increased profits. The goal was to do something for International Women's Day, but that is only one aspect of it. “Fearless Girl” means so much to the strength of women—[it has] morphed into an empowerment of women. This is an example of corporate America doing something very fantastic, and I am honored to be involved.
Were you given certain design parameters?
I met with a creative team from McCann New York and on behalf of State Street, who proposed a girl, 36 inches tall, wearing an old-fashioned dress and sandals with braids in her hair. A collaborative decision was made to increase her size to 41 inches and eventually to 50 inches because the bull is so large. I did a couple of sketches, but updated her footwear to a pair of high tops. The team wanted a girl with hands on her hips. I love motion, so I think her ponytail makes her look saucy. I gave her a non-controversial, neutral expression but raised her chin up for confidence. That way she can take on whatever comes her way. She’s strong and confident. That is today’s woman in business and tomorrow’s woman in business.
How long did “Fearless Girl” take to complete?
Approximately 400 hours in total. 100 hours in sketches and conference hours. I then built it in foam with a thin film of clay in about 250 hours. It then took another 12 or 15 hours on wax, followed by the metal check and overseeing the patina. The sculpture was cast in bronze at New Arts Foundry of Baltimore, Md. The whole process from start to finish took me a little less than two months.
Did you have any idea “Fearless Girl” would have the impact that it has?
Obviously it filled a need that women have for power and strength. I have been getting such emotional emails—from both men and women—telling me I have no idea how much the sculpture means to them.
Does “Fearless Girl” have a name?
No. Originally she was coined as “Taking a Stand” before it was changed to “Fearless Girl.”
What has been the most surprising or unexpected response?
I think that it went viral. I remember the night we installed it. It was freezing cold. We were outside from 11:30 p.m. until about 4:30 a.m., and all I was thinking was, "I hope people like it."
Has anyone reacted negatively?
Just “Charging Bull” artist Arturo Di Modica. But that came later.
People are saying “Fearless Girl” has changed the meaning of the “Charging Bull” forever. How so?
“Charging Bull” was a symbol of the strength of the American financial market. Di Modica thinks that, now, the bull looks like a bully. There is a respectful distance between the bull and the girl.
Feminism is very trendy right now. Do you think that has something to do with the statue’s popularity?
It was the perfect storm at the perfect time. I finished the piece on the day of the women’s march in [Washington,] D.C. In no way did we want it to be political. It was a bit of a surprise that we have more work to do in the women’s movement. We aren’t quite there yet. I think women needed some sort of symbol. I am grateful my art could make people debate the issue of women in business.
Where will "Fearless Girl" go at the end of her tenure on Wall Street?
Our goal is to ensure she remains in New York. If she cannot, the casting on Wall Street now belongs to State Street Global Advisors, so its new location would be up to them.
Describe your artistic process.
I am a night owl, but I never wanted to be. The reality is, since I work by myself, business gets done during work hours. I start to get creative around 3 p.m., then I really start working. Sometimes I listen to music or movies. My studio is on the Nassau Valley Vineyards, and I live in Rehoboth.
What do you like to do in your free time?
I like to walk down to the state park and the fishing beach. It is so beautiful. Que Pasa in Dewey Beach is a favorite spot, and I love to go into Rehoboth for a good dinner. I love going out for dinner and good wine.
What are you working on now?
I am working on another sculpture of Alexander Hamilton that will be donated to the United States Coast Guard Academy in New London by the Class of 1963. I am also working on “Twisted,” a series of distortions of the human form.
Visit www.visbalsculpture.com for more information.