SIXTY years ago, Felix de Weldon decided...


SIXTY years ago, Felix de Weldon decided to settle in America after a six-week tour of the country in his 12-cylinder Rolls Royce convertible.

Recently, an auction was held in his Washington, D.C., studio to pay off a $1.5 million loan from the Bank of New England. Mr. de Weldon, the man who recreated much of America's history and legends in sculpture, is broke.

His most famous work was the Marine Corps War Memorial depicting the flag-raising at Iwo Jima.

That project was started at the Patuxent River Naval Air Station in Southern Maryland, after Mr. de Weldon viewed a photograph of the Marines at Mount Suribachi. At the auction, the plaster cast of that well-known statue sold for just $100.

In the Washington area, Mr. de Weldon has produced 33 works. Next to the Iwo Jima sculpture, the Red Cross memorial and National Guard monument are the most notable. In Maryland, though, he has had only one big assignment, and that one turned out badly.

He was asked to design a sculpture to commemorate Maryland's 1649 Toleration Act, in time for 1974's Maryland Day during the U.S. bicentennial celebrations. The sculpture was to have 16 figures, standing 12-feet tall, with two bas reliefs. It was to depict Maryland's first governor, Leonard Calvert, preaching religious tolerance to a group of colonists.

Construction of the statue met a storm of controversy in 1973 after Mr. de Weldon spent four times the original amount allocated, projecting the final cost at $1.5 million.

The project was killed due to lack of funds, despite Mr. de Weldon's offer to finance it himself. The original model, created by the sculptor in 1968 and given to St. Mary's City, is now being restored for display.

Mr. de Weldon, who is in his 80s, lives in his home in Newport, R.I., which is owned by an investment group that lets him live and sculpt there in hopes he will pay off the remainder of his debts. He is unlikely, though, to return to St. Mary's City to finish a project for which he once had such high expectations.

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