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HEAVY TRADING IN BRONZE: SPORTS STATUES GET BIG
Jack Cavanaugh
October 24, 1988
Sculptor Mark Lundeen can relate to an athlete failing in the clutch. His high school basketball team in Holdrege, Neb. (pop. 5,624), lost the 1976 state class B title game in the last two seconds of play. Later, as a running back for Kearney (Neb.) State, he was forced to endure three seasons that ended with losses in the NAIA championships. Shouldn't he be satisfied with simply getting as far as he did in sports? Some might think so, particularly in light of the fact that Lundeen lost half of his left foot in a hunting accident in high school. But Lundeen, like so many others who have fallen short in sports, was left not with a feeling of satisfaction but with a wistful sense of unfulfilled promise. He decided to do something about it.
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October 24, 1988

Heavy Trading In Bronze: Sports Statues Get Big

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While Erving was being rendered in bronze, Paul Tadlock, a 53-year-old naturalistic sculptor, was beginning work at his studio in New Braunfels, Texas, on a life-sized bronze statue of the incomparable Payton, who retired at the end of last season after setting the alltime NFL career rushing record. The statue, which is expected to be completed in March, will probably stand inside the new Chicago Sports Hall of Fame.

In the meantime, the Payton monument committee, which includes Bears coach Mike Ditka and a number of prominent Chicagoans, is marketing 350 bronze replicas for $1,975 each in conjunction with Senter Vitale. As in the case of the Erving and Aristedes statues, subscribers who buy the 14½-inch replicas will have their names engraved on the base of the major work.

As a model for Payton's pose Tadlock used a photo of the running back leaning forward to his right, with a football in his right hand. "Walter doesn't look very big or powerful," says Tadlock, "but in measuring him, I was surprised at how thick his chest, arms and thighs are. Yet his waist is only 31 inches."

Lundeen, Bright, Tadlock and Regutti all use the lost wax process, employed by sculptors for at least 3,000 years. The technique begins with a clay model of a part of the figure from which a rubber mold is made. The rubber mold is removed from the clay and filled with hot wax; when the wax cools, it is removed from the rubber mold and coated with a ceramic material. The result is then placed into an oven to melt the wax, which drains away—hence "the lost wax process"—and to harden the ceramic material into a strong shell. Molten bronze is then poured into the empty shell. After the bronze solidifies, the shell is cracked, usually with a hammer, and the resulting bronze portion of the statue is welded to the other pieces to form the finished whole.

LaMontagne, who did the statues of Ruth, Williams and Bird, sculpts his figures from a kiln-dried block of laminated basswood weighing anywhere from 2,000 to 2,500 pounds. In doing the Bird statue, LaMontagne used more than 40 tools to carve 1,525 pounds off a 2,000-pound block. It took him about 2,000 hours, roughly the same amount of time that Bright took to create the Erving statue.

"I remember Larry telling me how a lot of people would tell him that the ball looks small in his hands," says LaMontagne, who was forced to give the Bird statue a haircut after the Celtics star turned up last season shorn of his long locks. "And I said, 'No wonder; you've got huge palms and big hands.' "

While sculpting the statue of Ruth, LaMontagne was permitted to take the Bambino's uniform out of the Hall of Fame for the first time. "I was amazed to find that Ruth had a 48-inch waist," says LaMontagne. "But then he was a big guy—6'2" and 250 pounds. And contrary to popular legend, his legs weren't really thin; they just looked that way because of the huge upper body. Actually, his calf was 17 inches, which is not small."

Williams, whose statue was commissioned by Mrs. Jean Yawkey, the owner of the Red Sox, was deeply moved when his likeness was unveiled in Cooperstown. "I told Ted later that I succeeded in doing two things no one else had been able to do in the past—take the chip off his shoulder and make him break down," says LaMontagne.

Senter Vitale is planning a number of other statues of living athletes, possibly including a series depicting the greats of golf. The sculptors have their own ideas. Bright, for one, would like to portray basketball legend Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. "He'd be a natural," says Bright, "shooting his skyhook, with his goggles and bald head."

"I've always heard about Jim Thorpe, Red Grange and other great stars of the past," says Council, "but you only see them in old photos or old film clips. With statues, you can preserve the athlete for future generations."

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