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Museum Minute: William J Thompson Sculpture

There’s lots of art outside our building as well as inside it. One of the newest works outside to join our collection is a sculpture by William J. Thompson titled “Archangel” on a pedestal near the museum’s main entrance. Thompson is best known locally for creating the “Spirit of Athens” sculpture downtown in conjunction with the 1996 Olympic Games. He also made a memorial at Andersonville National Park, commissioned by the Georgia Natural Resources Commission to commemorate lost prisoners of all American wars. Born in Denver, Colorado, he taught at UGA’s art school from 1964 to 1983, where the sculpture studio is named in his honor.

Thompson was an artist from an early age. His mother said that he used to bite animal shapes out of bread as a child. When he was 14, she gave him a book on Michelangelo that changed his life and made him want to be a sculptor. Thompson had originally intended to be a Catholic priest, and his strong faith showed up throughout his artistic career, including in this sculpture.

The museum owns many works by Thompson, but until now it did not have a large work. Given his importance to Georgia and to UGA, it made sense to acquire one, and his children generously donated this addition to our collection. Thompson died in 1995. He originally made this sculpture in 1967, in aluminum and fiberglass, but it was not in good condition, so artists recast it in bronze in 2022, enabling us to install it outside.

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