A friend alerted me about a sculpture in Forest Park. When I parked, I noticed an older man sitting on his front porch but didn’t wish to disturb him. When I couldn’t find the sculpture, I decided to ask the man. I excused myself before I climbed his stairs. Suddenly, I noticed he was the sculpture!
I rang the doorbell and came face-to-face with the model — Richard P. White. He explained the sculpture was named Zombie Dad and had been lovingly crafted by his daughter, Charity Sharon White. Zombie Dad is wearing light-colored shorts and T-shirt, but the most striking part of his wardrobe are his Birkenstocks and socks.
Wearing socks with sandals used to be a fashion faux pas but Zombie Dad makes it a fashion statement. Richard’s father gave him his treasured Birkenstocks and Charity thought they were the perfect footwear for Zombie Dad. People take photos of the statue and sometimes ask Richard to pose with it. It bears a remarkable likeness to him, except his expression is a bit crabbier.
Charity didn’t want to replicate her father’s features. She gave him a “generic” look that others would find relatable. She created Zombie Dad in 2017, during her second year of graduate school at the University of Florida in Gainesville. The project involved creating a life-sized statue.
After she chose her dad as her subject, Richard’s wife took 50 photographs of him sitting in a lawn chair. It took Charity about six weeks to replicate Richard in ceramics. The figure is hollow inside and weighs about the same as Richard. It requires two people to lift it.
Charity started learning her craft when she studied at Beye Elementary and OPRF High School. “Oak Park public schools are incredibly supportive of the arts,” she said. She credited her art teachers for inspiring her to become an artist. Richard helped by buying her a pottery wheel for her 16th birthday. Charity still uses it.
After Charity graduated from OPRF, she earned degrees in Crafts and Art Education at the University of Illinois. She earned her Master of Fine Arts in Ceramics in Florida. She taught at a high school on the South Side of Chicago and later taught at the college level. Today, she is an art instructor at a high school in Columbus, Ohio.
Charity is not just an educator and artist, she is also a community activist. She creates public art that makes statements about social problems. For example, she replicated a park bench that had a handrail in the center. She saw the handrail as a feature that subtly excludes the homeless. Her sculpture shows a homeless person cut in two, sleeping on that bench. Her works are startlingly realistic.
Meanwhile, Richard is enjoying his retirement from being chief information officer for a beverage company. He once served on the District 97 school board. Now he is involved in community theater, working on productions and hosting presentations at Open Door Theater. He’s also active in St. Giles Parish and Arbor West Neighbors, an organization that helps seniors stay in their homes.
Richard, though, didn’t want to remain in his Oak Park home. He bought a townhouse in Forest Park in 2003. He knows former mayor Tony Calderone and bar owner Marty Sorice. He occasionally hangs out at Blueberry Hill. He likes Forest Park because he lives within walking distance of the Blue Line and has easy access to the Eisenhower Expressway. He rides his bike everywhere.
As for Zombie Dad, Charity predicts someday he will simply fall apart. If you’d like to visit him, he sits at 7705 York. No need to excuse yourself.
John Rice is a columnist/private detective, who has seen his business and family thrive in Forest Park. He thoroughly enjoys life in the village and still gets a thrill smelling Red Hots, watching softball and strolling through cemeteries. Jrice1038@aol.com