His Rocket Thrower is in Flushing Meadows in Queens, his Boy Scout Memorial is in President’s Park in Washington, D.C., one of his George Washington’s is in Lansing, Michigan, another in Indiana and still another, Kneeling in Prayer, in Paramus. There is no doubt, Donald DeLue was a master of sculpture and an artist recognized in his own time and revered for ever after.
It will be 30 years in August since Donald DeLue died, but there are many in the Bayshore who still remember and respect the soft-spoken, gentle man who lived and created many of his magnificent works at his home and studio at 82 Highland Avenue, Leonardo.
DeLue….he was actually born Donald Harcourt Quigley, but took on a maternal family name when he was 21, was born in Boston and studied there, in New York, Paris, and under many famous sculptors and artists of his day. He had a style and flair all his own, to say nothing of dedication to hard work and energy. In a career that spanned half a century, he created hundreds of statutes, medals and medallions, many of them patriotic, many of them epitomizing the virtues of strength, patriotism, energy, and the American spirit. In an interview he gave in his Leonardo studio in 1975, DeLue said his mission was to “give dignity to the man, not make a hero of DeLue.”
His statue of Thomas Jefferson, all two tons of clay, says it all. Commissioned by the Bicentennial Commission of Jefferson Parish, La. the clay model was created in Leonardo, later to be cast in bronze and set on a Dakota mahogany granite base in the heart of a new plaza in Metairie, La, a lasting tribute to the man who made the Louisiana Purchase a reality. The sculptor said he created the 8 foot, 6-inch-tall statue complete with smile wrinkles on the President’s jaw and furrows in his brow to show both the strength and gentleness of the President.
It’s how he fashioned all the greats he has molded in clay in a studio cluttered with drawings, sketches, piles of books and assorted other items he deemed important to his work.
But the clay model, later to be cast in plaster to create the mold to be plaster filled and cast in bronze in New York before being shipped to Louisiana for formal dedication ceremonies, started long before the sculptor first put pen to paper for his initial ideas. DeLue had already read numerous books about Jefferson to get more insight into his personality, then pored over every drawing and photograph done in the 18th and 19th centuries during the President’s lifetime…he wanted to ensure his dimensions were accurate in creating a statue one and a half times life size….then created the steel frame in which he would wrap the clay. Although he destroyed the model once the plaster cast was made, DeLue always used the clay again for yet another purpose.
The master artist never took count of the number of works he created, nor did he ever remember which was his first. He lived for the next one he would make and always said his last one was his favorite. But they are still testimonies to his great talent throughout the United States and many other countries in such diverse locations as churches, convents, museums, colleges and universities. His Athlete is at the Naval Academy in Annapolis, his Boy Scout Memorial is in Washington, his Dr. Martin Luther King is at Wichita State University in Kansas. A sculpture of Eagles is at the US Court House in Philadelphia, another Washington Kneeling in Prayer is at the Freedom Foundation at Valley Forge. A sculpture is at the US Battle Monument in Normandy, France, and several of his works are at Gettysburg National Military Park.
The Rocket Thrower is one of the largest, if not the largest, of all of DeLue’s works. Created for the New York World’s Fair in 1964, it is 45 feet high, cast in bronze, and was one of the earliest concepts of man’s relationship to space and an adventurous spirit. Not selected by the Sculpture Committee to create a statue for the Fair, DeLue went to the Committee and requested he be included. He was, and was given six months to create his masterpiece. He did, completing it in time to be shipped to Italy for casting. He was allocated $105,000 for the statue, which still stands on the grounds of the Worlds’ Fair in Flushing. He envisioned his works lasting thousands of years.
DeLue and his wife Naomi lived in Leonardo even while he still maintained other studios in New York and Italy. He gave one man shows of his work at both Monmouth university and Brookdale Community College, as well as displaying more than two dozen of his sculptures and medallions at Bell Labs in Holmdel. Naomi died in 1982, he died in his sleep in Leonardo six years later, with his last work, The Leper, remaining unfinished. Both Donald and Naomi are buried in old Bridge.