By AMANDA KLEPS ’13
A new panther soon will
join the Pitt pantheon, making its home on the Bradford campus, having been
paid for in part by significant contributions from the student body and
sculpted by a Bradford native.
The bronze panther will
be erected in the Robert B. Bromeley Quadrangle, directly in front of the main
entrance to the Frame-Westerberg Commons, facing the students, visitors and
other members of the Pitt-Bradford campus as they stream in and out of the
With unveiling of the
new panther statue set for Sept. 3, the 50th anniversary of
Pitt-Bradford’s founding, sculptor Dave Hodges has his work cut out for him.
Creating a realistic, enduring, larger-than-life panther statue from sketch to
finish involves painstaking steps to preserve the nuances that Hodges
incorporates into his work.
Hodges spent his
boyhood days in Bradford before venturing out west to attend Montana State
University, graduating in 1979. Hodges, who also sculpted the Marilyn Horne
bust displayed in the KOA Speer Electronics Lobby in Blaisdell Hall, said he
began sculpting professionally in 1982, and his work reflects both his love of
animals and his Montana surroundings.
“I’ve just always lived
in the country, even starting in Bradford,” Hodges said. “So the art I end up
doing is entirely different than someone from New York or Los Angeles. They see
different things than I do every day. For instance, my wife, Carmen, and I go
out and feed 30 cows every morning.”
Visseau Resig, Class of 2010, remembers when she, as president of the StudentGovernment Association during the 2008-2009 academic year, along with the rest
of the SGA Executive Board, set out to bring a panther statue to the
“It seemed like a
natural next step,” Resig said. “Our campus was growing and we had all these
new buildings springing up. At the time
I think we had just surpassed 1,500 full-time equivalent students, and so we
had all of this growth on campus and we wanted to contribute too.”
Resig, who majored in
English education at Pitt-Bradford, is currently employed at The Pennsylvania
State University as an instructional designer, where she works with professors
to build their online courses. In October 2011, she married James Resig, who
briefly attended Pitt-Bradford.
“We knew that we wanted
a point on campus that expressed our panther pride,” Resig said. “We had been
working, not just SGA, but also SAC (Student Activities Council) and a lot of
student organizations, toward trying to establish a tradition that everybody
does every year. We wanted a physical location to represent the students’
On other Pitt campuses,
the panther statues are often petted for good luck on assignments, as well as
serving as backdrops for countless photos each year.
The initial student
contribution toward a panther statue for Pitt-Bradford was generated through a
combination of leftover allocation funds and the money set aside for the SGA
Executive Board’s annual gift to the campus. For the past five years, each SGA
budget has set aside a portion of the budget, generated through student
activity fees, to go directly into the Panther statue fund.
contribution has raised $35,000 toward the project, with additional funds
coming from the university and the president’s office. Several members of SGA
have been involved with the committee overseeing the panther statue project.
“That’s the way it
should be,” Resig said. “The students should be helping to build the campus the
way that they want to see it. I’m glad that there was student input on
something that is going to be a source of pride on campus.”
The amount of work to
bring a panther statue to the Pitt-Bradford campus is staggering, both
financially and artistically. One does not simply pick up a 125-inch-long
bronze panther at a flea market, slap down a few paving stones and an azalea
bush and then call it a day.
This is where Hodges,
who has sculpted more than a few animals in his day, comes in. Hodges said he
got the call about creating a Pitt-Bradford panther in July 2012. A few months
later, he started working on sketching several designs for the committee to
choose from, beginning actual construction of the statue in November 2012.
Set on giving the
campus the most realistic oversized panther possible, Hodges didn’t just rely
on memory, or even a quick scan of Google images. Instead he found a model: Rosie.
“I got in her cage,
kneeled down and pet her,” Hodges said of Rosie, a 17-year-old mountain lion
owned by a nearby taxidermist. “She purrs like a little motor when you rub her
ears. I took a bunch of pictures of her
and observed her from different angles.”
said that it helped to study her movements and to see how shadows fell around the
mountain lion. He used these references as he sculpted and texturized the clay
in the early phases of construction, creating the foundation for the highlights
and shadows that make pieces seem more realistic.
“The taxidermist went
over a lot of the differences in cat anatomy with me, and I have a book that
shows the muscles and skeleton,” Hodges said. “I always have the anatomy book
out because I have to keep in mind how the skeleton is and what the muscles
would be doing.”
Indeed, the process for
creating sculpture seems to be very similar to the images of systems and
compounding tissue layers diagramed in anatomy books. Hodges started by
fashioning a skeleton, not of bone but from 2 ½-inch-thick steel pipes and ½-inch-thick
rebar. He then filled in the structure, building up and then carving into
urethane insulation foam to create a surface for the heavy clay that comes
Hodges estimates that
he used 550 pounds of clay, shaping it around the basic shape created by the
“I try to get a nice
texture,” Hodges said, explaining the precision involved in sculpting the
surface. “I want it to throw a lot of light and reflection so it looks like it
has some depth to the hair. On the upper surfaces, I try to make it smooth, and
where I want shadow, I really rough up the clay with the tools. Especially on a
big statue that will be see from a distance, it has to have some texture or
else it will look too smooth, like a balloon or a piece of glass.”
Once Hodges had the
clay panther looking exactly how he wanted the final bronze version to look,
from each claw to the curve of the tail, he created molds.
The statue is being
dissected, carefully, into sections, 32 different pieces, Hodges said. These
smaller, workable pieces are then painted in rubber and covered in a heavy
plaster shell. When the plaster and
rubber coating has set, the clay innards will be removed and what remains is
the mold, which will then be sent off to the foundry. The clay and rebar are
recycled when possible.
The molds will be
filled with wax to make an impression, which will then be used to create a
final ceramic mold. The ceramic mold is emptied of wax and filled with the 2,100-
degree Fahrenheit melted bronze.
Hodges explained that this
casting method, called cire perdue, or Egyptian lost-wax method, dates back to antiquity
and allows for all of the intricate carving work of the artist to be preserved
as the molten metal fills the mold.
The resulting bronze pieces
then have to be welded together back into the shape of the panther.
“That’s actually one of
my favorite parts, the welding and the coloring,” Hodges said. “After it’s cast
and welded together, you have to grind the welds down to blend in with the
surface so it can’t be seen.”
Then the statue will be
sandblasted, and the welds will be completely blended in. At that point, Hodges
said, the statue will look like it is pure gold, but exposure to the atmosphere
would quickly discolor the bronze, so it would need to be immediately sealed, but
instead, to bring out the textures and lines incorporated into the statue,
Hodges will apply a series of chemicals to cause reactions on the bronze
Potassium sulfate and a
scouring pad will darken the depressions and make the highlights shiny, while
ferric nitrate will be used to turn the bronze a rich, golden brown. Finally,
Hodges plans to seal the statue with an ultraviolet light-blocking lacquer to
preserve the artistic colorations he will apply.
Only then will it be
possible for the Pitt-Bradford panther to make its way from the wilds of
Montana to the campus that is so eagerly anticipating its arrival.
It’s the best possible
birthday present one can imagine. A community effort, brought to fruition by
several years of student – now alumni – contributions, sculpted by a man who
knows the land and the animal, to be cherished by decades of proud panther
students and alumni for decades to come.