News From Terre Haute, Indiana

Indiana State University

November 7, 2013

Filling our void: Terre Haute artist Bill Wolfe poured his heart and soul into the project of a lifetime

TERRE HAUTE — Bill Wolfe thumbed through a series of photographs documenting his sculpture of basketball legend Larry Bird.

I’d asked Bill to study them and describe the scenes depicted.

The pictures chronicle the nine months it took the artist to create a 15-foot likeness of Indiana State University’s most recognizable alumnus. The images, taken by Tribune-Star chief photographer Joe Garza, captivate the eyes. All were shot with existing light only, and no flash, even into the wee hours of the long nights Wolfe worked, as darkness filled the windows of his Ohio Street studio in downtown Terre Haute.

One photo, in particular, made Bill pause. Joe snapped it last January, as Bill transformed the statue from a hard-foam model to clay, months before an Indianapolis foundry cast his Bird piece into its final, elegant state — 2,000 pounds of bronze. The photo showed Bill toting the sculpture’s gigantic basketball, also grasped by the figure’s detached hands, across the studio floor. It wasn’t the surreal look of a 58-year-old guy lugging an outsized sphere that grabbed Bill’s attention. Instead, it was his own appearance.

“It looks like I’ve lost weight in the process,” Bill said quietly.

He had. Those nine months, spent crafting the largest project of his career, overlapped his work on three other significant artworks.

There was “no time to eat,” he said, staring at the photo.

“Pretty much, the studio encompassed my whole life at the time,” Bill said. “Looking back,” he added, “I don’t know how I did it.”

Yet, he did, thank goodness.

The end result of his work-now-eat-later effort fills a glaring cultural void in this community. Ever since Bird turned Indiana State from unheralded to unbeaten and thrust the Sycamores into college basketball’s elite and its most ballyhooed showdown ever — the 1979 NCAA Final against Magic Johnson’s Michigan State Spartans and “The Game That Changed The Game” — the outside world has most often recognized Terre Haute by its link to Larry Legend. Most Hauteans have revealed their hometown to a stranger and heard in response, “You’re from Terre Haute? Larry Bird, right?” And, for years, curious travelers and visiting basketball teams have wandered in and around Bird’s ISU homecourt, Hulman Center, searching for the obvious …

Our statue of Larry Bird.

Such wayfarers will no longer leave town disappointed. Bill’s sculpture of Bird, in that iconic shooting form, will forever overlook the walkway to the south entrance of Hulman Center. ISU will unveil the statue in an 11:30 a.m. ceremony Saturday. Watching will be Bird, many of his notable friends and family members, dignitaries and residents of this city — a place that Bird helped rediscover its passion during three glorious winters all those years ago.

Bill will be watching, too. He hopes Bird will be proud of what he sees and that the sculpture becomes the most-photographed landmark in Terre Haute.

As modest and unassuming as he is, the artist appreciates Saturday’s significance.

“It’ll be a big day for me, a big day for Larry, and a big day for Terre Haute and Indiana State University,” he said.

Attention-grabber

It took dozens of late nights to produce this big day. While the city slept, Bill shaped and detailed Bird’s figure in two sections — from the torso up, and from the waist down, for logistical reasons. Working on a pair of 7-foot-plus halves was simpler than a 15-footer. Bill first carved the contours in foam, using a hefty knife and smaller, finer implements. Then, he coated the foam model in clay, heated in a microwave oven to make the material more pliable, as he sharpened the focused eyes, floppy hair, pointed elbows and flowing jersey. Before connecting the halves, Bill labored on the statue in two sections. The pieces stood — head and shoulders upright and legs upside down — clearly visible through the vast windows of his studio, which formerly housed an auto showroom. Peculiar as it looked, passers-by recognized what Bill was up to and gave him thumbs-up signs.

“I’d be working here in the dark, and I would be facing [away from Ohio Street], so I wouldn’t be paying attention to what was going on behind me outdoors,” Bill explained. “And I’d see a flash and think, ‘Where’d that come from?’ And there’s people standing outside with their cameras, taking pictures of me working on it.”

Joe took hundreds, himself. He’d photographed some of Bill’s earlier public art projects — a portfolio that includes the seated statue of “Desiderata” poet Max Ehrmann in downtown Terre Haute, the historic murals inside the Vigo County Courthouse and military sculptures from Indiana to Massachusetts. Most of those photos displayed the finished product. Joe wanted to capture Bill’s creative process from beginning to end. Ironically, Bill had the same vision. The Bird sculpture presented the ideal opportunity, and Bill agreed to give Joe full access to his work. It was an adjustment for both, especially the artist’s nocturnal work schedule.

“I’ve always worked at night,” Bill said, “because that tends to be my creative process, when I’m most inspired. It’s quiet. There are very few interruptions. So I can work all night long, if I wanted to.”

Unfazed, Joe trekked to Bill’s shop at odd hours. “Sometimes, he’d call me two or three times a day,” Bill said. “And there were times when he’d come and shoot, leave, and then three hours later [he] pulls up again. And I’d say, ‘Joe, I haven’t done that much since you left the last time.’ But he didn’t want to miss anything.”

Joe stuck with it. He was there the night that members of the Wabash Valley Art Guild filled Bill’s studio, helping him spread layers of clay over the statue’s foam body, with parts scattered, like a scary movie scene. Joe captured the instant when Bill bonded the two halves, and when a group of friends hoisted the work-in-progress and hung it upright, for the first time, in the former car dealership’s adjacent repair shop. Joe was there when those same buddies, and Bill’s sons, Bryant and Austin, loaded the statue into a truck, bound for the foundry — Sincerus Art Castings in Indianapolis. And, Joe documented Bill’s first glimpse of the metallic version of his sculpture. In it, the sculptor looks up at his masterpiece, dwarfed by it.

He’s gazing at the fruition of an idea he’d first conjured nine years ago, shortly after Michigan State erected a 12-foot statue of Magic Johnson outside the Breslin Center in East Lansing. In 2006, an ISU student, Brad Fenton, spotted the same monument while attending a football game at Michigan State. Bill and the young student had the same reaction — Indiana State should have a Bird statue, taller than Magic’s. Fenton started the Larry Legend Foundation in 2009 to fulfill that mission and enlisted Wolfe as its prospective sculptor, hoping to raise $135,000 for a 13-foot statue. The project survived ups and downs, generated student-based fundraisers, got support from the ISU Foundation, attracted a private donor, and eventually put Bill to work on the 15-foot visage, with a $153,000 final pricetag, of the Boston Celtics hero and Hall of Famer.

Details mattered

Like most Wabash Valley natives of a certain age, Bill has scenes of Bird’s epic ISU games etched in his mind. Bill studied art at the university after graduating from Clinton High School in 1973, and witnessed Larry and the Sycamores playing. Still, Bill wanted precision, so he gathered dozens of Bird photos as a guideline. No detail could vary from reality. “It had to look like Larry,” Bill said.

It does, right down to the numerals on his jersey and his wispy mustache.

On some nights, Bill finessed those distinctive elements alone. Weary, his hands kept going as his mind dozed. “I’ve actually fallen asleep at 3 o’clock in the morning, working, and all of the sudden I wake up and I’m still sculpting, but I’m asleep,” he recalled, chuckling. “It’s about then I realize it’s time to go home and go to bed.”

He credits his wife, Marina, for supporting and standing by him through leaner times in his career. “She’s had to pick up the slack there a lot of times when I wasn’t bringing in very much money, and she just hung in there with me,” Bill said. “And so now, it’s finally coming around to where I can make a living at this. Finally. It seems like a long haul.”

Joe caught some of Bill’s longest hours of labor with his camera lens. Joe shot the definitive photo from the outside, looking in through the studio window. It shows Bill, sitting in a rolling chair, carefully smoothing the clay on Bird’s left eye. Bill is wearing a loose flannel shirt, jeans, sneakers and a ballcap — attire Bird would appreciate. They’re framed by shadows and silhouettes. Sunrise is still hours away.

An award-winning photojournalist, Joe knew the picture tells the story of the artist and his subject.

“It just captures a moment,” Joe said, “of him working late at night — the artist and the piece, one on one, so to speak.”

On this floor, Bill Wolfe matched up quite well with Larry Bird.

Mark Bennett can be reached at 812-231-4377 or mark.bennett@tribstar.com.

 

1
Text Only | Photo Reprints
Indiana State University
  • ISU baseball drops second straight

    Indiana State’s baseball team rallied late in the game but could not get in front as the Canisius Golden Griffins held off the Sycamores 5-4 Saturday.
    ISU (24-12) will look to avoid being swept for the first time this season at noon EDT today when it plays the series finale against Canisius (22-13).
     

    April 19, 2014

  • SPT 041414 ERINN SUTTON2.jpg Driving to victory

    College golf, Indiana State coach Greg Towne indicated Monday afternoon, is all about the process.

    April 14, 2014 3 Photos

  • QFRGGNSQNGORIUF.jpg ISU losing Ragland to Bowling Green St.

    David Ragland was the first person Indiana State men’s basketball coach Greg Lansing hired to his staff when he became the Sycamores’ head coach in 2010.

    April 14, 2014 1 Photo

  • Thunder Pacers Basket_Tayl.jpg FROM THE PRESSBOX: In Lance the Pacers trust? Why not?

    The trials and tribulations of the Indiana Pacers are well documented.

    April 14, 2014 1 Photo

  • SPT 041314 DELLACAMERA.jpg Sycamores just one shot behind in tourney on familiar turf

    Lack of experience in playing a collegiate women’s golf tournament in their own backyard may not be a hindrance for Indiana State, which finds itself one shot out of the lead — and with room to do better — after Sunday’s first round of the Indiana State Spring Invitational at the Country Club of Terre Haute.

    April 14, 2014 1 Photo

  • ISU pushes run across in 9th to beat SIU — again

    Indiana State scored in the ninth inning for a second game in a row Sunday, breaking a tie to defeat host Southern Illinois and win a closely contested Missouri Valley Conference baseball series.

    April 14, 2014

  • SPT040914ISUBB_kudrecki.jpg Indiana State falls to No. 23-ranked IU 8-4 in baseball

    Indiana State’s baseball team tried to walk a double tightrope this week.
    The degree of difficulty was cranked up significantly as the Sycamores played back-to-back games at Vanderbilt and Indiana, both top 25 teams.

    April 10, 2014 3 Photos

  • ISU baseball falls to Vanderbilt 6-2

    The seventh-ranked Vanderbilt Commodores took control early to defeat the Indiana State Sycamores 6-2

    April 9, 2014

  • SPT 040614 TONY ROSSELLI.jpg ISU baseball is deadly with two outs

    One of the many charms of baseball is that there are a thousand different debates about a thousand different topics one can embroil themselves in. One of the most passionate is whether clutch hitting exists.

    April 7, 2014 1 Photo

  • SPT 040614 ROSELLI HOMER.jpg ISU dusts off its broom

    Wichita State’s baseball program has been the bellwether of the Missouri Valley Conference for more than a quarter-century. And 2014 is no different. When a team has success against the Shockers, picked to win the league in the preseason coaches’ poll, it still has cachet.

    April 6, 2014 3 Photos

  • Grant Prusator …nd jones 0.jpg Prusator gives ISU a shooter for 2015

    Grant Prusator, a native of Rochelle, Ill., has made a verbal commitment to play basketball for Indiana State starting in the 2014-15 season. He will have three years of eligibility with the Sycamores as he played just one year for Highland Community College.

    April 4, 2014 1 Photo

  • Metro sports: Locks of Love tournament today at Memorial Stadium

    The Indiana State Women’s Soccer team will host its annual Locks of Love tournament today. The 4th annual event will begin at 9 a.m. at Memorial Stadium.

    April 4, 2014

  • SPT012714ISUWBB laramie.jpg Laramie to transfer from ISU women's basketball program

    Indiana State forward Marina Laramie averaged 9.9 points and started all 32 games as a sophomore for the Sycamores.
    But the 6-foot-2 women’s basketball player will continue her career elsewhere.

    April 3, 2014 2 Photos

  • Metro sports: ISU blanks Austin Peay in 6-plus innings

    Indiana State’s baseball team posted another mid-week victory Wednesday night as four pitchers combined to throw a three-hit shutout and lead a 3-0 victory over Austin Peay State at Bob Warn Field.

    April 2, 2014

  • 20140401_145857.jpg Chicago guard commits to ISU women's basketball

    The Indiana State women’s basketball team picked up a verbal commitment from Chicago guard Kiera Brooks on Tuesday.
    The 5-foot-7 junior for North Lawndale College Prep visited ISU’s campus for the first time, met the team and chose her college home. Brooks averaged 18.7 points, six rebounds, four assists and two steals for coach Corey Morgan’s 15-11 squad.

    April 2, 2014 1 Photo

  • Metro sports: ISU’s Stone, Riemenschneider honored by MVC

    Indiana State junior Megan Stone and freshman Brooke Riemenschneider each earned Missouri Valley Conference Athlete of the Week honors, according to an announcement from the league office Monday.

    March 31, 2014

  • SPT 033014 A.J. McELDERRY.jpg Bad day for Sycamores

    Indiana State’s baseball team has had more good days than bad so far this season.
    Sunday, however, was bad in every way.

    March 30, 2014 2 Photos

  • SPT032814 ISUBB hayes.jpg Going the distance: Redbirds ace Savas allows just five hits while shutting down Sycamores

    Indiana State’s pitchers weren’t their best in Friday’s series opener against Illinois State, but it seemed the Sycamores might get away with it. Through seven innings, ISU had issued six walks, gave up six hits and hit a batter, but still trailed by just a run. But ISU’s luck with its generosity would give out in the eighth, and even if it hadn’t, Illinois State standout starter Dan Savas had the Sycamores’ bats in a deep freeze anyway. The Redbirds defeated the Sycamores 5-2 at Bob Warn Field.

    March 28, 2014 2 Photos

  • SPT032614 ISU BB curry.jpg ‘A full night’: Leadoff hitter Curry leads 16-hit attack as Sycamores pound Hoosiers

    Lead-off man Landon Curry had four of Indiana State’s 16 hits Wednesday afternoon, and cleanup hitter Mike Fitzgerald reached for the 17th straight game to lead the Sycamores to a 12-8 victory.

    March 26, 2014 4 Photos

  • ISU committed to making Tonyan a key contributor

    Indiana State’s 1-11 2013 football season was nightmarish in many ways, but one player who had to endure it with eyes more wide open than most was Robert Tonyan Jr.
    Thrust into a much larger role than anticipated at quarterback when Mike Perish was injured in early October, and with injuries occurring all around him as well, the then-redshirt freshman struggled behind center.

    March 26, 2014

  • SPT 032414 ISU FOOTBALL.jpg Fresh start: ISU football team springs into action for coach Sanford’s second season

    Many things change from year one to year two in someone’s coaching regime, but when it comes to football, few things change more dramatically in that span than spring football practice.

    March 24, 2014 4 Photos

  • Aces ride leadoff success to series win over ISU

    The leadoff bullets were flying around at Evansville’s Charles Braun Stadium as Indiana State and Evansville locked up in a Missouri Valley Conference baseball series decider on Sunday.

    March 23, 2014

  • SPT 032314 MEGAN STONE DIVE.jpg ISU stretching to improve softball program

    Some are from as far away as California, or Arizona or Iowa. Some played their high school games a little closer to Terre Haute, such as at North Central or Clay City.

    March 23, 2014 3 Photos

  • ISU loses 63-61 to Marquette in WNIT

    After a Jasmine Grier 3-pointer with four seconds on the clock cut Marquette’s lead to two points, a crazy March ending appeared possible as Bilqis Abdul-Qaadir came up with a steal with just more than a second to go Thursday in Hulman Center
    Abdul-Qaadir had momentum going toward the bucket after her steal but couldn’t get the layup off in time as the Sycamores fell in the first round of the Women’s NIT to the Big East squad, 63-61.

    March 20, 2014

  • SPT 031514 LARAMIE SCORE.jpg Second shot: ISU women seeking better shooting, defense against Marquette in WNIT opener

    Defensive continuity, defensive rebounding and better outside shooting are among the keys for Indiana State in a first-round WNIT basketball game against Marquette tonight in Hulman Center.

    March 19, 2014 2 Photos

  • NIT Indiana St Arkan.jpg Sycamores no match for Hogs

    In the wake of Indiana State’s 91-71 Tuesday loss to Arkansas in the National Invitation Tournament, it was obvious to everyone why ISU coach Greg Lansing feared the matchup against the Razorbacks. They just had too much for the Sycamores to handle.

    March 19, 2014 1 Photo

  • SPT031914 ISUSB stone.jpg Metro sports: Alvarez helps ISU softball gain home sweep

    Junior Yvette Alvarez pitched a complete-game win in the opener and hit her first career home run in the second game to lead the Indiana State softball team to a doubleheader sweep in its home opener Wednesday at Price Field.

    March 19, 2014 3 Photos

  • ISU2.jpg Sycamores eliminated from NIT by Razorbacks

    Arkansas ended ISU’s men’s basketball season with a 91-71 victory in the National Invitation Tournament.

    March 19, 2014 2 Photos 1 Link

  • ISU women's basketball team upbeat getting ready for Marquette

    The disposition of the Indiana State women’s basketball team was upbeat Tuesday as the Sycamores prepare for a WNIT showdown with Marquette on Thursday in Hulman Center.
    Two days off after returning from St. Charles, Mo., where top-seeded ISU was upset by fifth-seeded Drake, ISU coach Teri Moren prepared her team to get a postseason victory.

    March 19, 2014

  • SPT031714odum run.jpg A rapid pace: Arkansas style presents challenge for Sycamores

    Jake Odum has started at point guard for four years at Indiana State. He can claim as much as any Sycamore — past or present — that he’s seen it all. But even Odum hasn’t seen a team attack the game and attack their opponent quite like Arkansas does.

    March 18, 2014 2 Photos

Latest News
TribStar.com Poll
AP Video
Raw: Space X Launches to Space Station Small Reactors Could Be Future of Nuclear Energy New York Auto Show Highlights Latest in Car Tech Captain of Sunken SKorean Ferry Arrested Raw: Massive 7.2 Earthquake Rocks Mexico Man Charged in Kansas City Highway Shootings New York Auto Show Highlights Latest in Car Tech Raw: Fire Destroys 3 N.J. Beachfront Homes Raw: Orthodox Christians Observe Easter Rite Raw: Students Hurt in Colo. School Bus Crash Raw: Magnitude-7.2 Earthquake Shakes Mexico City Human Antidepressants Making Shrimp Too Calm Raw: Greeks Celebrate Easter With "Rocket War" Deadly Avalanche Sweeps Slopes of Mount Everest Raw: Four French Journalists Freed From Syria Raw: Pope Presides Over Good Friday Mass Swiss Unveil New Solar Plane for Global Flight Popular Science Honors Year's Top Inventions Raw: Church Tries for Record With Chalk Jesus NASA Releases Images of "graceful" Solar Flare
NDN Video
Jabari Parker's Top 5 Plays From Duke Career Kourtney Kardashian Is a Bikini Babe More Manpower Than Ever Expected At 4/20 Rally Debunk'd: Miley Cyrus AIDS, Cheeseburgers Cause Cancer, Military Warning Bill Previewing the NBA playoffs Raw: Orthodox Christians Observe Easter Rite My name is Cocaine Raw: Space X Launches to Space Station Lohan Gets Candid About Her Sex List The 2014 New York Auto Show Meet Johnny Manziel's New Girlfriend Chelsea Clinton Announces Pregnancy Funny: Celebrating Easter with Martha Stewart and Friends Man Accuses 'X-Men' Director Bryan Singer of Sexually Abusing Him As a Teenager Man hit with $525 federal fine after he doesn't pay for soda refill Lea Michele & Naya Rivera Feuding? Jabari Parker declares for the NBA draft Singing Nun Belts Out Cyndi Lauper New West, Texas Explosion Video Swim Daily, Throwback Thursday
Parade
Magazine

Click HERE to read all your Parade favorites including Hollywood Wire, Celebrity interviews and photo galleries, Food recipes and cooking tips, Games and lots more.
  • -

     

    March 12, 2010

activity