Monday, March 14, 2011

The Bard Gains A Dimension: The New Bust of Edward de Vere, Earl of Oxford

In November, I received an over-the-transom email from a businessman based in Texas who had a vision: He was a lifelong Shakespeare fan who had kept his bust of the Bard in a prominent place in his home. But he'd lately come to realize that "Shakespeare" was the mask that concealed another author -- Edward de Vere, 17th Earl of Oxford.

So, in so many words, Ben August set out to fill a void. The stunning and lifelike bust that August ultimately commissioned last year and is pictured here was unveiled yesterday at his new website Verily Shakespeare ( (August also regularly updates his gallery's Facebook page.)

Verily Shakespeare today sells a "giclée" print of the 1575 "Wellbeck portrait" when de Vere, then visiting Paris, was 25. It also shows photographs of the bronze bust he's commissioned from Hidden Valley Lake, Calif.-based sculptor Paula Slater

August says the life-size bronze bust of de Vere (with colored patinas) will soon be available for sale at He says he will also ultimately offer for sale a marble resin casting of the same bust as well as a "Hydro-Stone" plastic with a bronze finish. Moreover, August plans to offer a half-sized bust in all three media.

There will be a limited edition of both full-sized and half-sized bronze busts made, August says. On the other hand, he says, he will not be limiting the production run of busts made in marble resin or Hydro-Stone.

Over the past four months, I've corresponded and consulted with August as he quietly developed this ambitious art project. And today the "Shakespeare" By Another Name Blog features an interview with August -- an impresario who has carved out a unique role in creating a powerful new representation of Edward de Vere, a.k.a. "Shakespeare."

Later in the week, the "Shakespeare" By Another Name blog will feature an interview with the bust's creator, the renowned sculptor Paula Slater -- who in 2009 launched to international acclaim with her memorial bust of Iranian revolutionary martyr Neda Agha-Soltan ("The Angel of Iran").

(Full disclosure: I have provided feedback on the de Vere bust as it was being developed but am not financially affiliated with the project. August has, however, bought copies of "Shakespeare" By Another Name for his web store.)

SBAN BLOG: How did you discover the Shakespeare authorship question and the story of Edward de Vere?

BEN AUGUST: When I was in college [in the late 1970s], I started reading Shakespeare and fell in love with it. I was so taken by the power and the conciseness of The Sonnets that I started memorizing them. I've probably got up to 40 sonnets memorized. I just immersed myself in Shakespeare.

It wasn't until 1995 that I came across the authorship issue in Michael Hart's book [The 100: A ranking of the most influential persons in history]. I read that and was shocked. So I started digging around. And I'd run across an article here and there. And then I read your book in 2005. That created an avalanche of interest. After that I started picking up everything I could.

SBAN: How does the bust come in?

AUGUST: It was after reading your book that I took my bust of Shakespeare down. I always had one in my house. I had it for, gosh, 25 years. It had been on my mantle. I said, 'There's no sense in looking at this guy!'

I also love Goethe. Johann Goethe and Shakespeare are my two heroes. I've got several images of Goethe around my house. And a pretty good library of his works as well. So [in 2008] I was missing my Shakespeare, when one day it occurred me, 'Why don't I just create my own?'

SBAN: What did you do to put this plan in motion?

AUGUST: Every now and then, I'd look at sculptures. I'd start searching for sculptors. And I'd talk to them and get a feel for them. Four or five months later, I'd talk to another one.

I was not in any rush. I wanted to wait until I was absolutely taken by the work of a sculptor -- and also their personality. I had to feel like I could work with this person and feel like they could pick up on my passion and inspiration for this project. It needed to be somebody I felt I could have a good rapport with.

SBAN: Without mentioning names, could you give an example of one of the artists you decided not to choose -- and why you made that choice?

AUGUST: To me the key was capturing the character of the individual in the face. Really, that's what it came down to.

I've loved fine art for years. My mother was a collector of fine art. I'd go to art museums. I'm very familiar with the old masters. I would just look at everything I could find from these sculptors and what they'd send me. And what [the others sent] just didn't move me to act on this.

SBAN: So when did you come across Paula Slater's work?

AUGUST: I came across Paula in 2010. We talked back and forth for a couple months. I looked at her work closely. And I decided to share with her what the project was. I commissioned her in June 2010.

I believe Paula has a remarkable ability to capture the essence of a person in her work. I've seen several of her pieces -- pictures of them as well as in person. She does it remarkably well. Her attention to detail is exceptional, too. But you can be a technician and get that. It's a much greater art to capture the character of somebody's persona.

[n.b. Ben August and Paula Slater are pictured here in a recent photo with a rough of the bronze Edward de Vere bust.]

SBAN: How many drafts or revisions of the original bust [in clay] did you go through before settling on something you could both agree on?

AUGUST: I bet Paula went through 50 drafts. We had one major meeting with some significant refinements and adjustments. Then we probably had two or three other followups, where she'd send photos, and some tweaks were made after those conversations as well.

I know that she worked and re-worked and re-worked many many times. As she got more and more into this project -- and into the authorship issue and even just the content of Shakespeare's work -- she got it into her blood. She really got a sense of what she was trying to create.

SBAN: So what versions of this bust will be for sale?

AUGUST: My plan is to do a limited edition of the bust. The idea is there will be 100 of these Shakespeare busts in the world -- of the original bronze. Then we're going to do a half-sized bust. That's in the works right now. Paula is sculpting that. We'll do a limited edition [of that] as well. That'll be in the fine art section of the [online] gallery.

We'll also have replicas of the bust in a marble-resin -- so that the final product looks like hand-carved marble. We'll have them in Hydro-Stone with a bronze finish. Both half-sized and full-size.

SBAN: Whom do you hope to reach with this bust? What are your goals?

AUGUST: We're not looking to 'convert' Stratfordians -- those who have something to lose if de Vere is recognized as Shakespeare. We're looking for the millions of people who don't have a preference one way or the other. They love Shakespeare, and they'd prefer the truth.

[Images courtesy Ben August & Paula Slater]


Anka said...

Edward de Vere, the man behind the Shakespeare canon... Paula Slater, whose lovely visage graces Ben's Facebook page... and Ben August, the face behind that page. Thank you, Mark, for this revelation.

Doc Stritmatter said...

Nice post, Mark.

Mikael said...

Beautiful, and thanks for all work you do.

Mikael Kjellgren, Sweden

Unknown said...

Thanks Mark for your post. And thank you for your support during the last stage of the project. I almost broke down and cried after pressing the button to publish and announce the completed sculpture online. By the way, we are working on the inexpensive, but stunning replicas in bronze coated hydro-stone. And I am going to provide a copy of your book along with the first 75 customers. I am sure everyone on this page already has a worn out one, but they can give it to a friend!

Mark said...

Thank you, Anka, Dr. S, Mikael and, especially, Ben!

Bajagirl said...

I'm shocked by the image of this sculpture, that looks nothing like the portraits of de Vere. Who it DOES look like is the artist, and if you go look at her other works, you'll see she puts her own face onto every other portrait as well. In this sculpture the forehead is wrong, the nose is wrong, the upper lip is wrong, the eyebrows are wrong ... what's the point of capturing the "essence" of a person if you get the actual image wrong?

Donald mw said...

Wonderfully impressive piece in anticipation of a sea-change in the authorship controversy that may sweep the land with renewed immersion in the works of "Shake--spear" with a profoundly deeper understanding of the man behind the peerless canon.

A.Buckle said...

I was hoping to pick one of these up in the more affordable marble resin or Hydro-Stone, but I never saw either option available. Do you know if those were made?

Anonymous said...

Paula has captured deVere's "lazy eye," so evident in the National Portrait Gallery, London, portrait. Surely it must mean something that the Droeshaut cartoon in the First Folio also shows "Shakespeare" with a lazy eye?