The University of South Alabama's new Student Recreation Center will feature a 13-foot bronze sculpture symbolizing the importance of teamwork, as well as physical and spiritual health.
Washington-based artist Bob Wilfong's "It Takes Three" sculpture was recently installed on the eastern side of the new Student Recreation Center.
Wilfong created the sculpture, which weighs between 2,500 and 3,000 pounds, at his foundry and studio in Washington state. He then drove the sculpture to Mobile for the installation. The sculpture plays on the ancient Greek myth of Sisyphus, who was condemned to roll a boulder up a hill unsuccessfully. Rather than the classic Sisyphian struggle, however, Wilfong's sculpture shows that teamwork and a strong spiritual foundation can overcome any burden.
"Through partnerships with others and with our spirits, we can overcome our burdens," he said. "It takes teamwork. You can't accomplish things on your own. It's an honor to have one of my pieces selected for the USA Student Recreation Center."
This is Wilfong's first major public art project in Mobile. Ramsey Stuart, manager of Riley-Stuart Supply Company Inc. of Mobile, donated $25,000 toward the cost of the sculpture. His gift was matched by USA.
The USA Student Recreation Center, which will open this fall, features 116,000-square-feet of tracks, machines, courts and pools, designed to enhance student life on campus. Located within easy walking distance of the residence halls and central campus, the new recreation center features a rock-climbing wall, racquetball courts, several multipurpose rooms for aerobics and other classes, and a children's play area.
Wilfong used 98 separate molds to form the sculpture and then subjected the metal to a unique chemical process to create different patinas on the metal. He began with a Styrofoam and clay model, which he used to create the molds. He mixed cooper, tin and silica to form his unique bronze and then used special blends of acids to bring color to the metal. A waterproof varnish will keep the sculpture colorful and strong. He worked on the USA sculpture from September 2009 until May.
A native of Idaho, Wilfong took a long, winding path to the artwork that is now on display in 46 states. He trained as a wildlife biologist and spent a few years as a medical researcher before returning to graduate school in production economics. With that degree, he went on to spend 21 years in the banking industry. In the early 1990s, he began working with bronze as a hobby; his first project was a penguin for his wife, Jo. He would awaken at 3 a.m. and sculpt until 7 a.m., then begin his day in corporate banking. When he left the bank, he was inspired to work on an abstract piece, which he called, "If I Could But Fly." From that moment 12 years ago, Wilfong realized that he was being called to work in a more modern, abstract style.
"Instead of looking outside of myself, I learned to search into that emotional stew inside each one of us and pull out things and interpret things in my own way. I switched from being a good technician to being an artist."
He focuses on using "archetypal" forms that all people relate to because they seem to have the most meaning for the most people. Without any formal training in bronze or patinas, Wilfong has become nationally known for his expressive, evocative artwork, which is now featured in galleries nationwide as well as prominently placed in the area where the Sundance Film Festival is held annually.
He loves working with bronze because of its expressive qualities and the way it reacts to acids to form colorful patinas.
"I want my pieces to come alive," he said. "You can't get the motion until you move all around it."