Family Sculpture | American Dental Association

The ADA Family Sculpture

Facts about the “Family” Sculpture in the Exterior West Court, ADA Headquarters Building

A photograph of a bronze sculpture of three figures, a man, woman, and child, all playing with a ball depicted in an abstract style.

The Minnesota artist, Joseph O’Connell (1927-1995) was commissioned in 1964 to create a sculpture for the front of the ADA building. He was given a free hand to develop an appropriate themed sculpture for the west court.

O’Connell was known for his public and religious sculpture. For more information on his life and art see the book, Divine Favor: The Art of Joseph O’Connell, Colman O’Connell, editor, Collegeville, MN: The Liturgical Press, 1999.

Each figure is more than twice life size. The tallest figure in the group is approximately 15 feet tall. The entire sculpture is made of bronze. It weighs approximately 16,000 pounds. The largest figure in the group is approximately 8,000 pounds.

The figures are done in a free-flowing style in modified abstract form. The sculpture is said to epitomize the family of man and reflect the concern for humankind that is involved in the practice of dentistry.

The artist made plaster models of the figures in a studio at the College of St. Benedict in Minnesota, rented especially for the project due to its size. The plaster models were later cut into pieces and then shipped to a foundry in Detroit, MI where the sections were cast in bronze and then welded together. The finished work was originally shipped to the ADA on a flatbed truck and installed in May, 1969.

The “lost-wax” technique was used to cast the plaster models in bronze whereby a mold is made in wax which is then incased in a heat proof substance. Molten bronze is then poured into the mold and the wax is melted out as it is replaced by the bronze.

The sculpture was originally located in a court yard on the west side of the front of the building to the right of the building’s entrance. This was known as the War Memorial Court because it was dedicated to dentists killed in 20th century wars, the names of whom were carved on marble tablets located on the back wall of the court. The War Memorial Court, with the newly installed sculpture, was dedicated in a formal ceremony on August 14, 1969. The ceremony included a military honor guard, an invocation by the Archbishop of Chicago (Cardinal John Cody) and a bugler sounding taps.

In November 2006, the sculpture was removed and temporarily stored in a warehouse while a major renovation of the building’s lobby was completed. The renovation enclosed the east and west courtyards of the building behind a glass wall. After the renovation was finished in April 2008, the sculpture was reinstalled in its current location in the front west exterior corner of the building, to the right of the entrance.

Compiled by Archivist, 2008 from various source in the ADA Archives.