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Gregory Marra ...
Sculptor creates monuments
to heroes of river communities
by Regina Young
In some ways, Gregory Marra considers himself to be just a big kid making soldiers out of lumps of clay.
In others, he is a community servant honoring and immortalizing our country's past through meticulously sculpted works of art.
Either way, one thing is for sure – Marra knows it is his destiny to honor the past.
"History has waited nearly 250 years for me to do this," the 32-year-old sculptor said.
Along both sides of the Delaware River, from Trenton to Milford, N.J., and Bridgeton to Yardley, Pa., Marra is bringing the heroes of the American Revolutionary War back to the soils that sank beneath their boots so long ago. He is doing this through "American Patriots in Bronze," a series of life-size monuments.
A lengthy endeavor expected to take years to complete, Marra's mission is to honor those whose stories of heroism and sacrifice in and around the river communities have been overlooked, forgotten or left to be discovered in the pages of old, dusty history books.
"The projects are going to educate everybody about the Revolutionary War," Marra said, adding that he believes the monuments will help attract tourists to the area. "It will boost American pride and our economy."
Marra was inspired to honor the patriots after a visit to Washington Crossing Historic Park. The Tinicum Township resident and self-described history fanatic decided there just wasn’t enough commemorating the American Revolution patriots along both sides of the Delaware.
"There's got to be something to remember them by," he recalled thinking.
Deciding to put his artistic talents to good use and with the support of The David Library of the American Revolution in Upper Makefield Township on the Pennsylvania side of the river, with the Delaware River Mill Society and family members of the patriots in tow, Marra set out on his quest, which he refers to as the "first phase of a huge campaign to promote patriotism in this country."
In May 2007, he unveiled the first monument in the "American Patriots in Bronze" series – a sculpture of Lieut. John Prall Jr. who was wounded at the Battle of Millstone, N.J., and was disabled for six months before going on to fight in the Battle of Monmouth. The monument stands at the Prallsville Mills, the patriot's home and a National Historic Site in Stockton, N.J.
Future projects will include a Leni Lenape Tribe Monument in Frenchtown, N.J., and monuments of Lieut. James Monroe and Daniel Bray in Lambertville, N.J., George Coryell in New Hope, Colonel Glover, Henry Knox and George Washington and Billy Lee in Trenton, N.J., as well as a monument dedicated to Washington's crossing of the Delaware in Washington Crossing, N.J.
"It's one of the most important events in our history and there's nothing commemorating it there," Marra said of the crossing, which took place Christmas night in 1776.
On that fateful evening, members of the Continental Army and militia led by Washington crossed over the Delaware River and entered Trenton where they went on to defeat Hessian troops, hired by the British.
Marra said the monument will be an accurate recreation of the crossing, with detail being paid to even the provisions that soldiers would have been carrying.
"It can't be generic or fake," said Marra, who uses a sculptor’s developed sense of sight and touch to give the sculpted patriots their human likeness.
The trick, he said, is through the state of the clay.
“If you leave a nice texture they come alive," Marra said. “The clay doesn't look dead. The clay is rough, but it makes it so realistic.
“I want the hair to stand out on their necks. Even in this big, technical world, it's refreshing to see the people made out of dirt.”
Marra, who has a master's degree from the New York Academy of Figurative Arts and teaches sculpting lessons at his gallery and studio in Lambertville, N.J., said his goal is to provide a historic gateway between Pennsylvania and New Jersey.
However, the goal doesn’t come without a price.
With each monument costing a “very substantial amount to construct properly,” Marra is asking community members to support his cause and is seeking funding from organizations, individual donors and through grants.
“If the towns don't have the money, I'll find it and give it to them,” he said. “There's no price the you can put on the biggest event in American history.”
Like his subjects, Marra said he isn’t going to let anything deter him from his mission.
“The reality of the Revolutionary War was that it was vicious. It was one shot then the bayonet,” Marra said. “There was an extreme amount of sacrifice these gentlemen went through to give us our country – all for this one idea of freedom. To bring them back to life in front of the public is a big honor.”
To donate to “Patriots in Bronze,” checks may be made payable to the Delaware River Mill Society and sent to Marra’s gallery at 22 Church St., Lambertville, N.J. 08804.