Not surprisingly, the vision behind the Maverick Monument – west-coast artist Jocelyn Russell - is a bit of a maverick herself.
Born and raised in Colorado, Russell (third from the right in the picture above) is the youngest of five children and often accompanied her mother, who was also an artist, into her studio.
“From about the age of two to three I was playing with clay and paint – the real stuff,” Russell says. “I didn’t really go through a Play-Doh or crayon stage.”
Even after selling her first painting at 8 years old and producing art for the same shows her mother participated in, by high school Russell discovered she was not cut out for the regimented world of art classes.
“I guess I wasn’t very compliant,” Russell laughs. “And my art teacher told me that I’d never make a living at it.”
Russell continued art as a hobby, but didn’t pursue a career in the field until she was in her late 20s when she left her job at a veterinary office to focus on her art full time.
Working in a veterinary clinic and owning a ranch with her then-husband influenced Russell’s focus on wildlife in her art. Russell began with paintings, but sculpture slowly made its way into her shows so much so that she made it her sole focus.
It wasn’t long after that Russell received her first monument commission from NatureWorks, a non-profit organization in Oklahoma, for a bronze elk sculpture.
“I was doing a show at NatureWorks and I had a smaller elk in my booth and one of the older guys on the board came over and said ‘Jocelyn we really like this elk, would you consider doing it monument size,’ and I said that I had never done one and he pauses and says ‘So, you can’t?’” Russell explains. “I said well, other people can so of course I can!”
Flash forward almost 20 years later during a search for an artist to help design a monument for the UNO campus. UNO Alumni Association President Lee Denker says the committee tasked with finding an artist for the monument found out about Russell purely by accident.
“Through David Helm, an art professor here are UNO, we tried to get in touch with the guy who designed the New York Stock Exchange bull,” Denker says. “In looking for him we came across some other campus monuments, including one at Utah State that Jocelyn designed. ”
It wasn’t long after contacting Utah State that Russell’s name was mentioned and she agreed to a proposal for how the statue would look using single-word descriptions, including some seemingly contrary concepts like “aggressive” and “approachable” from UNO Student Government.
“The parameters were really interesting to work with because you want have this beast that looks like he’s going to kill you, but you can also pet it,” Russell explains. “So what I did was bring the power and imposing part into his stance but he doesn’t have a mean face.”
A small-scale clay version of Russell’s design was presented to a committee made up of members of the UNO Alumni Association, UNO Student Government and several other representatives from UNO and the City of Omaha before that same committee ultimately selected her design as the one that would best represent UNO.
Following the official selection of Russell’s design, the next step was turning the concept to reality. This involved making a plastic mold from the scale model that was then scanned by a computer at the Adonis Bronze Foundry in Utah and magnified several times to create a near-exact replica mold at actual size. The enlarged mold was then used to create a foam model that Russell could cover with clay. Once the life-sized clay model was finished, a set of molds was cast and wax pored into them before being cooled and then covered in bronze. Once done, approximately 40 bronze pieces were welded together to create the final product.
While Russell’s team was working on the monument, the UNO facilities crew was also be hard at work designing the new plaza, which sits outside the Health, Physical Education and Recreation Building (HPER). Now in its final stages of completion, the new plaza features a completely re-done stone walkway that leads to a tiered platform where the monument stands. At the base of the platform is a series of engravings from donors who have helped pay for the $200,000 project.
Now, thanks to the work of Jocelyn Russell, UNO students –beginning with those who attended Sunday’s New Student Convocation – can develop new traditions and memories that will last a lifetime.
As for Russell, while her work is done for this particular project, Denker says that she might be called into action again in the near future.
“If it generates the kind of interest I think it will… who says we won’t think about doing another one?”
If and when that time comes, there is no question that she’ll be ready.
Our Campus. Otherwise Known as Omaha.
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