When Glenna Goodacre was a student and interested in becoming a sculptor, her art teacher discouraged her. He gave her a grade of “D,” told her that she had no ability to see in three dimensions and advised her to switch to painting.
Ms. Goodacre did paint for a while, but went on to become a nationally known sculptor. Her works include the Vietnam Women’s Memorial on the National Mall in Washington, the Irish famine memorial in Philadelphia and the Sacagawea dollar coin. She also made a larger-than-life statue of President Ronald Reagan, which was unveiled at the Reagan Presidential Library in California 1998.
She was 80 when she died on Monday at her home in Santa Fe, N.M.
Her son-in-law, the musician Harry Connick Jr., who is married to her daughter, Jill, announced the death on Instagram. Her husband, C. L. Mike Schmidt, said she died of natural causes, but added that her health had been declining since she suffered a brain injury in 2007.
Ms. Goodacre was one of the few women creating large, commemorative sculptures; early in her career, she signed her work “G. Goodacre,” out of concern that people would not buy art made by a woman. Her works, including paintings, have been exhibited across the United States and in collections in more than 40 countries.
Perhaps her most famous piece is the bronze sculpture dedicated to the 11,500 women who served in Vietnam as nurses, intelligence analysts, air traffic controllers and other roles. Since it was unveiled on Veterans Day in 1993, it has become a gathering place for some of the 265,000 women who served in the military during the Vietnam era, and their loved ones.
Ms. Goodacre’s design, chosen from submissions by 317 artists, depicts three uniformed women helping a wounded male G.I. Intended as a symbol of healing, it was modeled in part after Michelangelo’s “Pietà.” The sculpture is set in a grove of trees 300 feet from the low black granite wall of Maya Lin’s Vietnam Veterans Memorial, dedicated in 1982.
Ms. Goodacre conceived of the piece as a kind of theater in the round, in which viewers could regard the figures from all angles.
“The emphasis of this tribute is centered on their emotions — their compassion, their anxiety, their fatigue, and above all, their dedication,” she said when the sculpture was unveiled.
“The kneeling figure has been called ‘the heart and soul’ of the piece because so many vets see themselves in her,” she added. “She stares at an empty helmet, her posture reflecting her despair, frustrations and all the horrors of war.”
Some architectural reviewers were critical of the piece, saying it was sentimental or that it detracted from the power of Ms. Lin’s Vietnam wall.
Ms. Goodacre brushed off the criticism. “I really don’t care what they say,” she told The Denver Post. “I’m happy with what I do and feel fortunate that it sells.”
She was vindicated when she won a national design competition in 1999 to create the new gold-colored Sacagawea coin. The coin, depicting the young Shoshone woman who guided the Lewis and Clark Expedition in 1804, was intended to replace the Susan B. Anthony dollar coin that many people mistook for a quarter.
Ms. Goodacre’s most ambitious civic sculpture was the Irish Memorial in Philadelphia, at Penn’s Landing, for which she won an international competition in 1997. Also in bronze, it measures a spectacular 30 feet long by 12 feet wide by 12 feet high, and took her until 2003 to complete.
The sculpture includes 35 life-size figures representing the one million people who died in the 19th-century potato famine in Ireland as well as the harrowing journey that a million others took to America.
“There will always be a place for commemorative sculpture because it is three-dimensional, people can walk up, identify, congregate, photograph, touch, be in the historical moment,” she said in 2015.
“Certainly, there are wonderful historic paintings,” she added, “but you can’t put a painting in the park.”
She was born Glendell Maxey on Aug. 28, 1939, in Lubbock, Texas. Her father, Homer Glen Maxey, and her mother, Melba Mae (Tatom) Maxey, were builders and developers in Lubbock.
Ms. Maxey studied art and zoology at Colorado College, in Colorado Springs, planning to become a medical illustrator. She graduated in 1961, the same year she married William Goodacre, a Canadian hockey star at the college.
Ms. Goodacre, who later spent a semester at the Art Students League in New York, began her career as a painter in Lubbock, which would name a street after her. She began casting small pieces in bronze and moved to Boulder, Colo., near a foundry in Loveland. There, she told The Denver Post, “I learned sculpting techniques from people who knew lots more than I did.”
Gradually, she found it easier to sculpt in three dimensions than to paint in two and transformed herself from painter to sculptor.
She divorced Mr. Goodacre in 1983 and moved to Santa Fe, in part for the luminous natural light, which has long attracted artists to the region. There she married Mr. Schmidt, a lawyer, in 1995. They built a cabin on the Pecos River and had a house in Santa Fe, where Ms. Goodacre built or remodeled several of her studios.
“She loved building and remodeling,” Daniel Anthony, her manager, said in an email. “It was in her genes. We outgrew studio after studio, and she was thrilled to build bigger ones. In the studio on Upper Canyon Road, we could play basketball in it. That’s where she made the Irish Memorial.”
In addition to her husband and daughter, she is survived by her son, Tim Goodacre, and five grandchildren.
Ms. Goodacre never fully recovered from her brain injury. She stopped working but painstakingly finished a couple of pieces she had started before her injury, including a sculpture of three ballerinas inspired by her three Connick granddaughters.
While she was best known for her Vietnam and Irish memorials, she said those pieces, with their serious subject matters, were exceptions to her larger body of work.
“I am a very positive person, so most of my work tends to be upbeat, if not downright happy,” she told Mr. Anthony in 2005. “I don’t do morosely philosophical pieces like some artists. It’s just not in me.”