Artist Kristen Visbal discusses the inspiration for her Fearless Girl sculpture. Jason Minto/The News Journal
It's been six weeks and Kristen Visbal still can't concentrate on work.
Ever since her sculpture of a young girl with arms akimbo landed in the same ring as the Wall Street bull, the Lewes artist has been inundated with congratulations, media inquiries, requests for commissions and unsolicited reproduction deals.
"It's been really intrusive on my life," the blindsided brunette confessed in a recent interview, her first of seven that day.
Many artists would go gaga over the international exposure resulting from "Fearless Girl," a bronze beauty who became a rallying cry for female empowerment, despite her beginnings as an investment firm's publicity stunt.
But Visbal, who won't reveal her age or the two young Delawareans who inspired her little lady, is the opposite of an attention hound. When she finally granted The News Journal's request for an interview this month, she expressed reservations about having the newspaper tour her studio — "my space."
Both strong and sensitive, Visbal's four-foot-tall Fearless Girl was installed in New York City's Bowling Green Park on March 7, the day before International Women's Day. A stroke of advertising genius, the work was meant to call attention to the dearth of women serving on the boards of the largest U.S. corporations. State Street Global Advisors bankrolled the project, with help from top advertising firm McCann New York (of "Mad Men" fame). Visbal won't disclose the sculpture's total cost.
As every good brand manager knows, timing is everything. With her defiant chin up, Fearless Girl planted herself in front of "Charging Bull" just two weeks after President Donald Trump's inauguration and the Women's March on Washington.
The arrival went viral. #fearlessgirl.
She was greeted with pussy hats, praise from Chelsea Clinton and a flurry of selfies of women posing with their hands on their hips.
But not everyone welcomed the girl with the sassy ponytail and high-top sneakers. The bull's creator, Sicilian-born artist Arturo Di Modica, claimed copyright infringement. His attorneys say the three-and-a-half-ton bull, with his lash-like tail and flared nostrils, was improperly commercialized and "transformed into a negative force and a threat" by the 250-pound girl.
To which New York Mayor Bill de Blasio tweeted: "Men who don't like women taking up space are exactly why we need the Fearless Girl."
Di Modica originally installed his bovine (under the cover of darkness and without permission) in front of the New York Stock Exchange after the stock market crash of 1987. A symbol of Americans' resilience and can-do attitude, the beast was later carted off and deposited in a public park.
Visbal says she greatly respects the 76-year-old Di Modica and has tried to contact him to no avail. The way she sees it, art in the public domain can evolve and interact with other public monuments without being diminished by them.
"Now the (bull) belongs to the public and so does my Fearless Girl," she insists. "'Charging Bull' has always been seen as representing a Wall Street community that's predominantly male."
"And we're saying, Hello, women are here, too. We're an integral part of this community. And, furthermore, we're the future of this community."
Originally titled "Taking a Stand," Fearless Girl wasn't supposed to be political, Visbal says. Several politicians have contacted her about joint promotions, but she believes that "gender diversity is far greater than any political agenda."
A former saleswoman for the Omni hotel chain, Visbal established her petite studio in coastal Delaware nearly two decades ago. There, shrouded in vines at the Nassau Valley Vineyards, she has created a series of larger-than-life football coaches for Miami University in Ohio, a sculpture of a girl catching butterflies for Merrill Lynch, and another of a mermaid riding a wave crest with dolphins for a South Carolina seaside resort. Her favorite subject is marine life, she says.
Visbal's labor-intensive technique, called lost wax bronze casting, involves painting a rubber mold with hot wax. For larger pieces, she relies on a robotic arm to carve blocks of foam into the shapes she creates. The blocks are then assembled and fine-tuned before being covered in clay.
In 2004, Visbal created what was then the tallest statue of Alexander Hamilton for his namesake city in Ohio. Towering more than 12 feet, "The American Cape" features the statesman wearing an undulating cape decorated with the 13-star American flag.
On the heels of the "Hamilton" Broadway craze, Visbal is busy creating another Hamilton likeness that will be donated to the U.S. Coast Guard.
After finishing Fearless Girl over a feverish two months, she is returning to work on a series of sculptures called "Twisted," which involve distortions of the human form. Her "Vortex" highlights the torso of a man, his arms forming an arc, being sucked into a vortex that represents addiction.
Visbal also plans to apply to a competition to have one of her works featured in New York's Central Park, part of an effort to expand the number of female artists with public art on display there. With her newfound fame, she is weighing a move to New York.
Born in Potomac, Maryland, Visbal studied art at Salisbury State University before apprenticing at the esteemed Johnson Atelier art foundry in Mercerville, New Jersey.
The foundry recommended her for the Fearless Girl project, she says, based on her experience sculpting children. Visbal's young subjects capture the ephemerality of life as they fly a kite, nuzzle a puppy or shoot hoops.
Fearless Girl, too, was designed to be temporary until an online petition argued that her removal would be tantamount to snubbing gender equality. As of now, she's been given an extension until the next International Women's Day.
We may never know the real girls behind the statue's steady, intrepid gaze. Visbal, who has no children, used two models from the First State. One is the seven-year-old daughter of one of her best friends; the other is a Latina, the daughter of a friend of a work colleague. Visbal declined to identify them, citing privacy concerns.
"We wanted a figure that all women all over the world could relate to," she explains.
Early concepts envisioned a shorter girl, wearing a traditional dress and braids.
But Visbal didn't want her girl dwarfed by the machismo bull. She stands her ground, no matter who or what tries to obstruct her path.
She won't be trampled.
That message resonates with women around the globe, and Visbal has heard from many of them. One told the artist that Fearless Girl is the spitting image of her daughter, who died in an equestrian accident.
Another said her daughter is going blind — but not just yet.
On her bucket list of things to see: Fearless Girl.
Contact Margie Fishman at (302) 324-2882, on Twitter @MargieTrende or firstname.lastname@example.org.