TERRE HAUTE, Ind. — After steel cables were attached Monday morning to a 15-foot bronze statue of Larry Bird, Brent Clark, a crane operator with 28 years of experience, carefully maneuvered the likeness of Indiana State University’s most famous basketball star over a concrete base.
“It reads 1,900 pounds on my crane scale,” said Clark, an employee of Misco Enterprises-Crane Service in Terre Haute.
“This is enjoyable for me to do. In Larry’s senior year at ISU, I had a season ticket and went to every one of the ball games here at Hulman Center. I also got to go to the [sub-regional] ball game in Lawrence, Kansas,” Clark said.
Fitting the statue into place involved some puzzle-working skills.
“Every art project has a little bit of play in it in the end,” said Betsy Wilkinson, a structural engineer for KIVA Structural Engineers in Terre Haute. “There are unusual, unique connections to make. The framework came out a little tall and the footing was cast a little high, so with the combination of the two, the center circle will be a little taller.”
Wilkinson said a stainless steel base frame and stainless steel frame extending from Bird’s bronze feet were used to support the statue in place.
The frame for the statue’s feet and box-like base frame, which had anchor bolts and epoxy to hold it in place, fit inside a two-foot-deep concrete circular base. The frame for the feet was welded onto the base frame.
Concrete was then poured into the circular concrete base. Holes were also drilled into the base frame to allow stainless steel tubes to be filled with concrete. Bird’s statute, while entirely hollow, has stainless steel framing extending up through his legs and to his waist, acting like bones for support.
“Bronze and stainless steel do not have reaction to each other, that is why the two materials are used,” Wilkinson said. “If you put two metals together that have a tendency to react to each other electrically, they eat at each other over time. It is called dissimilar metal contact,” Wilkinson said. “That is why the framework had to be stainless steel.”
The statue is 15 feet tall from the feet to the top; however, the overall height will be much taller. Wilkinson said the total height will be measured today, once all preparation work has been completed.
Sculptor Bill Wolfe wanted Bird’s eyes lined up with the intersection of Eighth and Cherry streets, to ensure a perfect Bird shooting form.
“We want to make sure it is put up the right way,” Wolfe said. “The body, the figure, looked like it was set right, but once we took the cover off of the face, we could see that he [Bird] was looking off to the right too much, so we had to swivel him more to the left.
“Whatever we do here, it will be final. It is a little unnerving part of the process here,” Wolfe said as the statue was put into place. “It’s exciting and unnerving.”
The eyes go back to Wolfe’s initial process of sculpting Bird.
“When I start a sculpture, I start with the eyes pretty much and go from there,” he said. “Hopefully this will be something that everybody will be happy with.”
Wolfe said concrete around the statue has to cure for at least 12 hours. Then supporting metal brackets in the basketball and statue head will be removed. Wolfe said he’s sure the statue will be secure at the corner in front of Hulman Center.
“My son is an Indiana State University police officer, so he will be watching it,” Wolfe said, chuckling about his son, Austin.