Chicago Sculptor Richard Hunt, Who Created Indelible Public Art From His Astounding Studio, Dies at 88


World-renowned sculptor Richard Hunt died in Chicago on Saturday. He was 88 years old.

In 2021, Hunt marked 50 years in his studio – a former electrical substation of epic proportions that became a laboratory for his monumental metal works.

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He told WTTW News that the studio had everything he wanted: “Skylight, high-ceilings, a crane to move stuff around. If you were going to design a sculpture studio, you couldn’t do any better.”

Videographers loved the endless variety of compositions available in his studio. Anvils, tools, found objects, scale models for larger works and metal scraps were everywhere. More than one cameraman said they could spend days there, and the space never failed to inspire.

The inside of Richard Hunt's studio in 2021. (Marc Vitali / WTTW News)The inside of Richard Hunt's studio in 2021. (Marc Vitali / WTTW News)

The building was constructed in 1909 for the Chicago Railway Company, and it was here that Hunt hammered, grinded and welded since 1971, making artwork that ended up in the collections of the Smithsonian Institution and the Art Institute of Chicago.

The artist told WTTW News that his creations are “a dialogue between myself, the technique, and the material. Putting things together will suggest something, something dynamic and three-dimensional.”

Paintings, he said, can only be seen from one angle. “Sculpture can be experienced from all sides, and it reveals itself in different ways.”

In 2015, we asked curators to describe the abstract work. Curator Daniel Schulman spoke of how Hunt created “gravity-defying shapes with a sense of movement. They’re almost like a ballet. There’s dance in these pieces.”

Curator Naomi Beckwith, then with MCA Chicago, said, “In his work he’s found a perpetual challenge: how to take something so heavy, so industrial – how do you make that look alive, precious and lyrical?”

Richard Hunt was born in 1935 and raised in Woodlawn and Englewood, the son of a barber and Chicago’s first Black librarian. He took lessons at the South Side Community Art Center, graduated from the School of the Art Institute in 1957 and became a teacher.

But when he realized he was making more money in the art studio than in the classroom, he left teaching and began his prolific career.

Sculptor Richard Hunt and WTTW News report Marc Vitali are pictured in 2021. (Marc Vitali / WTTW News)Sculptor Richard Hunt and WTTW News report Marc Vitali are pictured in 2021. (Marc Vitali / WTTW News)

He became beloved in the art community and was known to be gracious. Hunt was always genial, generous and funny when WTTW crews arrived. “Take all the time you need,” he said the last time we visited his studio. “I’m just glad that PBS showed up to talk to me,” he added with a laugh.

Hunt’s works can be seen outside Midway Airport, at 37th  Street and Langley Avenue in Bronzeville paying tribute to Ida B. Wells, and in the Woodson Regional Library, among other places.

He made over 100 public works, including a memorial to Martin Luther King in Memphis, Tennessee. His sculpture “Book Bird” was commissioned by the Obama Foundation and will stand in the garden at the Obama Presidential Center.

And all of the artwork was created right there in Richard Hunt’s supersized studio across from Jonquil Park near the DePaul campus. What a gift it would be if the space where he created these public works was preserved and opened to the public.


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