Community Gem: Dayton sculptor has created a lifetime’s worth of community artworks

Virginia Krause Hess is a prolific Daytonian sculptor, and at 96, has works in public spaces all around the Miami Valley and in 50 countries.
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Virginia Krause Hess is a prolific Daytonian sculptor, and at 96, has works in public spaces all around the Miami Valley and in 50 countries.

Virginia Krause Hess, 96, has created dozens of sculptures around the Miami Valley.

DAYTON — Take a walk around one of Dayton’s many parks and you’re likely to see at least one of the many sculptures created by Daytonian sculptor Virginia Krause Hess.

Hess, now approaching 97, has been an artist in Dayton since she was 12 years old and has spent a lifetime creating sculptures celebrating the city of Dayton and its people.

Her long list of accomplishments includes civilian service at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, where at 19 years old during World War II, she painted silhouettes of planes. Her silhouettes were put on posters and playing cards to help soldiers identify the shadows of friendly aircraft, and so wouldn’t shoot down their own planes.

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She also has sculptures at Dayton Children’s Hospital; Dave Hall Plaza in downtown Dayton, and Wright State University. Hess sculpted the bronze Veterans Monument display at Stubbs Park in Centerville.

“She is one talented lady,” said Leah Day, who nominated Hess as a Dayton Daily News Community Gem. “She’s been such a wonderful artist for the community.”

Hess begins a sculpture by creating a maquette, or a sculpture “sketch,” and then constructing the sculpture life-size in clay. Then, once she creates a wax replica, the sculpture is taken to a foundry to be cast in bronze. Even the smallest projects can take three to four months.

Hess also sculpted a bronze bust of Charles E. Taylor, the Wright Brother’s mechanic and creator of the unique engine which enabled Orville and Wilbur Wright to first achieve controlled, powered flight. The bust has become the basis for the Charlie Taylor Award, given to aircraft mechanics for a 25-year perfect record, one of the most prestigious accolades in the field.

“I didn’t think anyone would want that head. Now it’s all around the world in 50 countries,” Hess said. “Sometimes the thing you had the most fun doing turns out to be the one most important to you.”

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At 96, Hess hasn’t slowed down, and is continuing to work on sculptures for new recipients in the Miami Valley.