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Nobel Prize-winner Norman Borlaug: A central figure in 'The Green Revolution'

Benjamin Victor Studios
Benjamin Victor / Benjamin Victor Studios

On the 1st of April, the monument to a legendary American from Iowa, Norman Ernest Borlaug, will be installed in National Statuary Hall. Known as the Old Hall of the House of Representatives (from 1807-1857), the large semicircular room just south of the Rotunda in the U.S. Capital building was built in the shape of an amphitheater, and is a definitive example of Greek the revival architecture of early America.

Sculpted by Benjamin Victor, (an alumni and artist-in-residence at Northern State University in Aberdeen, South Dakota) who has already made a contribution to Statuary Hall, and at age 26 he is the youngest artist ever to do so. The figure is that of Sarah Winnemucca (1844-1891), a Native American Nevada woman who was a Paiute activist, educator, author and lecturer against injustices done to Native Americans. Having established a school for Indian students in Nevada, she was a significant influence in effecting better policies toward her own people and for all Native Americans.

Astrid Riecken reported yesterday in The Washington Post that Mr. Victor was among 65 artists whose work had been considered, and that Ken Quinn -- director of the World Food Prize which commissioned the statue, said it was Victor's having "brought the statue of Winnemucca to life, in the Capital, and, more important, he brought a passion to the persona of Norman Borlaug that could not be denied:"

"Victor decided that Borlaug — part farmer, part genius hybridizer — would be sculpted by the wind. Victor put Borlaug’s hat on the back of his head and had the wind form diagonal creases in the trousers and shirt. Most of all, Victor decided, Borlaug would be a guy of the field, in clothes and demeanor, and then, only then, would he be a man of science, clutching his notebook.

Victor decided that Borlaug, even in his 60s, would be muscular, his forearm would be strong and have raised veins as he cradled a notebook. It would be of a guy who grabbed life. Victor thought of Michelangelo’s Moses, clutching the tablets.

Early in the commission, Victor found some farm clothes and stood in a field and got his assistant to take photographs all the way around."

Rieckan also writes:

"[Borlaug] believed that freedom from hunger equated to freedom from violence, and in 1970, he won the Nobel Peace Prize. He is credited with feeding and thus enabling the lives of one billion people."

Born in 1914 on farm in northeast Iowa, Norman Borlaug was an outdoors enthusiast and a trained athlete. He studied forestry at the University of Minnesota, earning a BS in 1937. He worked for the U.S. Forest Service in both Massachusetts and Idaho, before earning a master's in plant pathology in 1939 and a doctorate in 1942 from his alma mater; and was a research microbiologist for the du Pont de Nemours Foundation.

In 1944 Borlaug worked in Mexico, as a geneticist and plant pathologist directing and organizing their Cooperative Wheat Research and Production Program , jointly sponsored by the Rockefeller Foundation and the Mexican government, taking on a wide range of research -- according to the Nobel Prize literature -- “in genetics, plant breeding, plant pathology, entomology, agronomy, soil science, and cereal technology.” and after a few decades was “spectacularly successful in finding a high-yielding short-strawed, disease-resistant wheat:”

To his scientific goal he soon added that of the practical humanitarian: arranging to put the new cereal strains into extensive production in order to feed the hungry people of the world - and thus providing, as he says, "a temporary success in man's war against hunger and deprivation," a breathing space in which to deal with the "Population Monster" and the subsequent environmental and social ills that too often lead to conflict between men and between nations. Statistics on the vast acreage planted with the new wheat and on the revolutionary yields harvested in Mexico, India, and Pakistan are given in the presentation speech by Mrs. Lionaes and in the Nobel lecture by Dr. Borlaug. Well advanced, also, is the use of the new wheat in six Latin American countries, six in the Near and Middle East, several in Africa. ...

Mr. Borlaug is the author of several books, including: "Feeding a World of 10 Billion People," (2003); "Land Use, Food, Energy and Recreation," (1987); "Civilization Will Depend More Upon Flourishing Crops Than on Flowery Rhetoric by Dr. Norman E. Borlaug," (1979); "The Impact of Agricultural Research on Mexican Wheat Production."

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