Meet Glenda. She has wisps of gold in her white hair, melatonin-drooped eyes and a tragic lack of torso.
A nickname coined at the Philadelphia office of Anthropologie, Glenda is a bust planter officially known as Grecian Bust Pot, with a gaping crevice where her brain would have been. When the lifestyle chain store introduced the piece in 2018, it quickly sold out. Now available in two sizes, it is a consistent bestseller in Anthropologie's "giftables" category, said Mary Beth Sheridan, the company's chief home merchant.
Glenda is just one of many busts finding a place in home decor.
"All of a sudden I became really interested in statues and columns," said Brigette Muller, a Brooklyn freelance content creator.
On Etsy, there was a 9% increase in searches for busts or statues made of concrete, cement, ceramic, clay or marble in 2021 compared with 2020, said Dayna Isom Johnson, a trend expert at the company.
The online marketplace currently has some 158,000 listings for busts, including a 3-D-printed bust of the Greek poet Sappho (from $13), a gilt bust of Donald Trump ($125), wax candle busts too pretty to burn and a bust of Jeff Bezos ($59) that doubles as a stand for headphones (interestingly, it is not for sale on Amazon).
On Chairish, an online secondhand marketplace for furniture and décor, the number of busts for sale rose by 150% from December 2020 to December 2021, said Noel Fahden, its vice president of merchandising. Among them: a cast stone bust of Hermes for $3,400, which includes a pedestal.
Historically, the term "bust" has referred to both a sculpted torso (hence "bust," as in cleavage) and sculptures of heads. The latter, also known as portrait busts, were made as lifelike memorials for the dearly departed, typically carved of marble and owned by the nobility.
As the art form popularized again during the Renaissance in Europe, royalty had busts made "as a kind of propaganda," said Emerson Bowyer, Searle Curator of Painting and Sculpture at the Art Institute of Chicago. "A bust of Napoleon in your house somehow links you to Napoleon," explained Bowyer, who owns a bust of Napoleon. "And so I think there's that sense of the creation of imaginary genealogies."
Throughout the Renaissance and into the 19th century, busts mostly appeared in city centers and in the homes of those who could afford hand-carved marble. Today, mass manufacturing, 3-D printing, cheaper materials and a robust online network of secondhand retailers have democratized the art form. Busts are no longer just hallowed relics, but knickknacks available to anyone with a naked bookshelf.
On Amazon, a popular portrait bust is a $22 replica of Michelangelo's David made of resin. A far cry from marble, Bowyer says it is "still imbued in some way with the aura of the original object."
Perhaps no contemporary maker has had more fun with busts than potter Jonathan Adler, who has been sculpting them for decades at his New York studio. "Where don't I have a bust?" he said. "I'm staring at one as we speak!"
Adler made a series of classical-style portrait busts inspired by the meandering European vacations the wealthy used to take in the 18th and 19th centuries, from which they would often return with a souvenir bust or two.
"I think there's been a real trend in the decorating world to take things that are traditionally very serious and to slightly deface them," Adler said.
Adler said that people have a "biological imperative" to gaze upon the human face and thinks sculpture allows for a truer approximation of that experience than any other art form.
Patrick Monahan, an art adviser in New York, suggested another reason for the renewed interest in them.
"After all this time indoors, we just need someone new to talk to," he said.