Thursday, December 17, 2009

Joining the Team

One of the best parts of our work at the studio is the way each project exposes you to new places and new subjects. For many of the monuments we’ve worked on, we’ve had a general familiarity with the subject, but the demands of the project insist on an extensive and thorough knowledge base. For a Martin Luther King piece we learnt about King’s personal library and preferred texts. For a multi-figure tribute to Bob Hope and his work with USO, it meant watching countless performance videos. Now as we move forward with the monument to John David Crow for Texas A&M, we are learning about the culture of football in Texas and the traditions of a unique university.

Of course, the learning curve on the subjects is made steeper since, Steven and I are more familiar with Europe than we are with states outside of California. Worse still as an Englishman Steven’s knowledge of "American" football consists of a general understanding that it involves elements of rugby, but with more padding and equipment. We’ve been participating in a gradual education program based on viewing of every football movie ever made, but the time had finally come for a more direct course of action. It was with this goal in mind that we traveled to the great state of Texas.

In a three day crash course, we went to two major games and came away with a fortified excitement for the project. The tangible enthusiasm, fierce loyalty and pride we saw was inspiring. Former A&M President Bob Gates once remarked that A&M was a "unique American institution". As we visited the grounds around Kyle Field, we were swept up in the culture of and passion for the school.

The university is steeped in history and a sense that every student holds the honor and responsibility of carrying the mantle of past achievements and future recognition. As we became enraptured with the day’s football contest and spoke to alumni, fans and current students, we began to feel as though our current project made us temporary Aggies. As if we too should stand with the student body as the ever ready Twelfth Man, ready to take the field to fight for what the school represents.

As we returned home this same since of purpose continues to guide our work on the project. We have been chosen to create something special and unique. We remain grateful for the hospitality we were shown, cognizant of the honor of our assignment and ever so slightly hungry for barbeque...

Saturday, December 12, 2009

In the flesh.....

We use live models for all of our work in the studio. Even when the subject is a posthumous one, we will still bring in a model of a similar height and build. Steven maintains that it’s as much an effort toward efficiency as an attempt to ensure accuracy. He says it’s just easier to see something right in front of you and he'd rather work from a three deminsional reference.

For the most part our larger monument work features great achievers from the past. While our research frequently puts us in touch with decedents or colleagues of the subjects, it’s very rare that we meet directly with an individual of whom we are creating a huge heroic sculpture.
That changed when John David Crow visited the studio to consult on the monument we are making for Texas A&M University. It’s a powerful moment when an individual that you’ve been studying as a legend for months and months suddenly appears and the whole studio was honored at his presence.

Faced with a soaring representation of his younger self, Crow was at first humble and quiet. He even seemed slightly resistant to this grand scale celebration of his achievement, but eventually our enthusiasm for the project became contagious.

As Steven began to explain his thoughts for the piece, the design decisions he was considering and the overall impact he envisioned, Crow offered suggestions and comments. He stepped away from the overwhelming weight of the honor and began to talk with simple passion about football and his time with A&M. He shared stories about the way he played, his stance and his technique. While he talked, Steven shifted the pose of the sculpture, changing the angle of the torso and moving the arms and legs.

In one hour the shape of the sculpture was transformed and the whole project suddenly became much more real. A shift had taken place and we were no longer making a sculpture of a man from old videos and archival photos. Now the project is properly individualized, showcasing John David in every nuance. It’s this process that defines Steven’s work - the transference and communication of these details and his ability to do so still seems magical to me.

As Crow and his wife and college sweetheart were getting ready to go, Mrs. Crow turned to Steven and said, “it looks just like him.”

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Jumping In

We’ve just signed the final documents on a new monument project for Texas. Like so many projects of this scale, we’ve been anticipating this moment for months. Now that it’s finally time to start working for real, there’s both palpable excitement and the nervous energy that comes with the consideration of any large and challenging project.

We’re working on a twice-life size sculpture of Texas A&M football legend John David Crow for instillation at the university’s Kyle Field. One of the realities of monument work is that the size of the sculpture makes a huge impact on the environment. This combined, with the expense and the amount of labor involved can frequently lead to questions regarding the subject. When an inquiry for any large project comes in you find yourself wondering what about this individual has led to the decision to create such a permanent and high-profile celebration.

At the studio we respond to these questions by a massive amount of research. There’s a great responsibility that comes from changing the national landscape. First there’s the desire to create something of beauty and impact that benefits the environment and surroundings. When the project, like this one, is designed to honor a specific individual, then you have the added responsibility of doing justice to the spirit, achievement and legend of the subject. It’s a difficult balance. The work by definition of its scale requires an element of grandeur, but in order to be personable and approachable the sculpture also has to be as authentic as possible.

Again, we protect ourselves with research. But in order to cover both sets of objectives, the spiritual and the factual, we partake in a total immersion program. We want to understand what John David Crow represents to Texas A&M, as an athlete, as an individual and as a source of inspiration. And so we must learn about football (today and as it was played in the late 1950s) we must learn about the traditions that define A&M, and finally we must learn about John David.

The project’s just begun. The whole studio is wearing A&M paraphernalia, we’ve got game tapes playing on the computer, the sounds of the Texas Aggie Band are playing over the stereo and John David Crow is scheduled to visit. It’s overwhelming, inspiring and it’s just begun…Gig em Aggies!