In July of 1865, Charles Dodgson (aka Lewis Carroll) published a tale he first told to the three daughters of Henry Liddell during a boat ride down the River Thames in London. One hundred and fifty years later, Leader area sculptor Bridgette Mongeon is bringing renewed attention to Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland through a bronze monumental sculpture of the Mad Hatter Tea Party.
Lucky for Houstonians, the permanent site of the sculpture, once finished, will be in Bellaire’s Evelyn Park, itself still a work in progress. The Jerry and Maury Rubenstein Foundation is the sculpture’s patron in honor of their mother Evelyn.
Now, with the sculpture’s home secured, Mongeon needs to finish it.
“I’ve been working on the project for three years,” said Mongeon, who lives and works in Kentwood Manor just north of Garden Oaks. Originally from western New York, Mongeon has been in Houston for over 30 years – more than long enough time for it to have become her home.
“My kids and grandkids are here,” she said.
Inspiration for the Mad Hatter Tea Party came from the famous Alice in Wonderland sculpture in New York’s Central Park. But the interpretation is all Mongeon’s own. While the Central Park sculpture certainly gets climbed on, Mongeon has designed her piece to specifically invite children to do so.
The 4 x 10 foot table will seat 6 to 8 people who will get have to have tea with Alice, the March Hare, Cheshire Cat, Dormouse and of course, the Mad Hatter. Families can picnic at the table and interact with the characters.
“I call it ‘Move One Place On’,” said Mongeon. “It’s something that the Hatter says when Alice joins the tea party. I’m hoping that someone will bellow that when they sit down and everyone will scoot over.”
Her public art will also have the touch of the personal as Mongeon has modeled the characters on friends and loved ones.
“The hidden White Queen has the face of my mother,” she said.
To further mark Alice’s 150 years, Mongeon is embedding 150 elements in the sculpture for onlookers to find. That could be Humpty Dumpty, the Dodo bird, or the Cry-Baby.
“It will start with a stump sculpted to look like wood that is also a dedication plaque to Evelyn Rubenstein,” said Mongeon. “There is also a mouse sitting on it who will be reading a storybook.”
Coincidentally, or maybe not so much, Mongeon is working on two companion books. The field guide will be written in “riddle and rhyme” to help the public with the hidden elements in the sculpture. The other will be a book about her process.
A third book coming out in September, called 3D Technology in Fine Art and Craft: Exploring 3D printing, Scanning, Sculpting and Milling will help to explain how she is using both traditional and digital means to create ‘Move One Place On’. “I work traditionally using clay similar to the old masters, but I also sculpt digitally in the computer,” she said. “Sometimes I go back and forth.”
She sends the 3D scanned image of the sculpture to a vendor who will enlarge it to the appropriate height in foam – in this case 8 feet for the figures – and send it back to Mongeon. Then, she and her interns will carve more detail on the foam, and then add a layer of clay for further definition.
Once the sculpting is complete and is approved by the client, Mongeon will prepare it to go to the Shidoni Foundry in New Mexico. She said that she’s entertaining the idea of having a 3D scanning company come in and scan the entire scene before it goes to the foundry because she also has the rights to create table top versions of this sculpture.
“3D scanning of art for documentation and preservation is a rather new endeavor by artists,” she said.
The Alice project is just one of a series of high profile projects for the sculptor, who got her start by doing a statue of the late B.B. King. How did she get that gig?
“I just asked and he said yes,” said Mongeon. “I went to the Allen Park Inn to take his measurements and finished [the sculpture] in one night.”
She has sculpted Bill Monroe and Willie Nelson as well as the 15 foot Grambling State Tiger in Louisiana. Mongeon also sculpts the images of deceased loved ones, for prayer gardens and cemeteries.
“I love doing those pieces,” she said. “It helps with the healing process.”