36 Intriguing Delawareans • Kristen Visbal
Kristen Visbal measures the quality of art at two ends of the spectrum. One is, well, one: “In order to create anything, you have to be alone,” she says, for perhaps 500 hours on a single piece.
The other is in the attention of the many reached by art, and she scored in that this spring with “Fearless Girl,” an instantly famous bronze placed next to the “Charging Bull” statue in Manhattan.
“We were simply making a statement for International Women’s Day,” she says of the statue, initially planned to be displayed just four days. “I secretly hoped people would demand that it stay, and that happened” – after what Fortune estimated was 500,000 social media mentions. In one day.
The statue was commissioned by State Street Global Advisors to “celebrate the power of women in leadership and to urge greater gender diversity on corporate boards,” the firm says on its site (and to promote its exchange-traded fund for companies committed to gender fairness, Fortune adds).
“I’m not a feminist, but I have to say I was excited,” says Visbal, who works in Lewes. “I cannot believe that there is such a pay discrepancy a hundred years after women got the right to vote. Equality in pay and leadership are issues whose time has come. Men and women women working together create better decisions and increase the bottom line.”
She placed the rest of her art on hold for several months to devote time to following up on this one piece, including reproductions, legal issues, 75 interviews (with many more turned down) and feedback (she cited a teacher who set up a wall to honor fearless students).
The statue was commissioned Nov. 30, and she offered 11 sketches, five hairstyles and three sizes before a final choice was made. It’s modeled on two Delaware girls whose identities she isn’t disclosing, but she says she told one to “imagine being strong,” and she toned down the haughtiness, belligerence and confrontation. She wanted to call it “Standing Tall.” It was installed March 7.
Why all the attention? “We didn’t have anything that symbolized the empowerment of women.”
She’s now looking for another project that could have such a broad impact and is returning to a series that will “distort realism through motion and will, in fact, realize motion in its most literal interpretation.” She’s also working on an Alexander Hamilton statue for the Coast Guard Academy and a trophy for Ohio’s Miami University.
In July, the campaign to promote women won an impressive 18 awards at the Cannes Lion International Festival of Creativity. “Cannes Lions judges praised Fearless Girl for pulling off two seemingly contradictory successes: being both timely and permanent,” Adweek reported.
Visbal was born in Uruguay, where her father’s Foreign Service job took the family. She moved to the U.S. when she was 4 and grew up in Potomac, Maryland, where her mother taught drawing and painting. “My parents were intellectual and well-traveled and love art.”
She studied marketing at the University of Arizona and worked in hotel sales and marketing in Washington before moving to Sussex County. Her parents had a house in South Bethany, and she’d been vacationing there since she was 12. “I always loved and was inspired by the sea.”
She was 30 when she went back to college, at Salisbury State. Graphic design led to ceramics (“I dug my hands in that clay, and I loved it”) and to abstract sculpting. “I was taking five studio classes at a time while commuting at the beach, and it was a very heavy schedule.”
After earning her bachelor’s in art summa cum laude, she apprenticed with Virginia wildlife sculptor William Turner and at New Jersey’s Johnson Atelier Art Foundry, honing her skills on realistic pieces.
She returned to Delaware in 1998 and set up her studio at Nassau Valley Vineyards.
Her works are most prominently displayed in Ohio and Florida, and they’re in some private Delaware connections, she says, but multiple discussions have not led to any public pieces in Delaware.