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
  • Degano2.jpg Bullpen mates: Three relievers coming on strong down stretch for Rex

    The Terre Haute Rex pitching staff ranks fifth among the 12 teams in the Prospect League in earned-run average this season and first in the league with only four home runs allowed all summer. But the Rex pitchers might be the best in the league the past two weeks as the team has had two shutouts and two games with one run allowed in the past week.

    July 29, 2014 2 Photos

  • Prettyman wants ISU to be prepared for potential NCAA changes

    Against a rising tide of media, public and institutional sentiment that would suggest otherwise, Indiana State Director of Athletics Ron Prettyman believes that the current model of college athletics still works.

    July 26, 2014

  • SPT 102613 UNDER TACKLE.jpg Can Sycamores bounce back from rough 2013 season?

    One week before Indiana State begins preseason practice, there really is only one fundamental question that the Sycamore program faces.
    Can it win again?

    July 24, 2014 1 Photo

  • ISU basketball trio earn national academic honors

    A trio of Indiana State basketball student-athletes have been named to the 2013-14 National Association of Basketball Coaches Honors Court as announced by the national organization. Honored from Indiana State were Lucas Eitel, Justin Gant and Jake Kitchell.

    July 23, 2014

  • Metro roundup: Post 346 rallies past Rockville

    Wayne Newton Post 346 scored a run in the sixth and two in the seventh to get past Rockville 6-3 in an American Legion baseball regional at Terre Haute North on Wednesday.

    July 23, 2014

  • Truebytower.jpg Memorable experience in Morocco for ISU soccer team could help team's growth

    Coming off the best season in its history, the Indiana State women’s soccer team figures to have the experience to do even better in the upcoming fall season.
    Or maybe that’s #TheExperience.

    July 23, 2014 11 Photos

  • Metro: ISU graduate Johnson sixth in shot at Monaco

    Indiana State graduate Felisha Johnson competed in her first International Association of Athletics Federations Diamond League track and field meeting Friday, placing sixth in a shot put competition that featured six of the top seven throwers in the world for 2014.

    July 18, 2014

  • MVC to shift women's basketball tournament to Moline, Ill.

    The Missouri Valley Conference Women’s Basketball Tournament will move 90 miles farther from Terre Haute beginning in 2016, the league announced Thursday.

    July 17, 2014

  • Metro: ISU-IU football game to be on ESPNEWS

    Indiana University announced Wednesday that the season opening game between Indiana State and IU will be played at noon on Sept. 30.

    July 16, 2014

  • Odum heads for Vegas with Kings summer team

    Terre Haute native Jake Odum scored three points in the Indiana Pacers’ 84-74 victory on Thursday over the Miami Heat in the Orlando Summer League.

    July 11, 2014

  • odum.jpg Odum has 5 points for Pacers in summer play

    Former Indiana State standout Jake Odum contributed five points, three assists and a steal in 15 minutes on the court Wednesday for the Indiana Pacers summer league team.

    July 9, 2014 1 Photo

  • MVC Tournament staying in St. Louis until 2018

    Missouri Valley Conference men's tournament staying in St. Louis until 2018.

    July 9, 2014

  • Odum scores 2 points off bench for Pacers

    Three of the top picks in last month’s draft are adjusting to NBA at different speeds at the Orlando Pro Summer League.

    July 7, 2014

  • SPT062714dans gardner1.jpg Gardner staying sharp with Danville

    This summer with the Danville Dans is a big one for Terre Haute native Cody Gardner, who wants to play a part in keeping Indiana State baseball successful in 2015.
    The former Terre Haute North High School standout painfully sat and watched as a Division I transfer as ISU made its ninth trip to the NCAA Tournament with a 35-win regular season.

    July 1, 2014 2 Photos

  • Metro: ISU’s Wise starts out well in USATF championships

    Indiana State sprinter Katie Wise advanced to the semifinals of the women’s 100 meters as she ran 11.42 seconds in the opening heat of the event Thursday evening at the USA Track & Field Outdoor Championships.

    June 27, 2014

  • SPT021914ISUMBB odum.jpg ISU's Odum talks about agreeing to play for Pacers' summer-league team

    No team selected him in the two-round NBA draft Thursday night, but Terre Haute native and four-year Indiana State basketball standout Jake Odum agreed Friday to play for the Indiana Pacers’ summer-league squad next month.

    June 27, 2014 1 Photo 4 Stories

  • SPT 030914 ODUM FILE.jpg Steady success: ISU continued to climb ladder with one of its best overall seasons ever

    First of all, if you’re an Indiana State fan, stand up and applaud. The Sycamores collectively went where only one Sycamore athletic department went before in 2013-14. ISU finished second in the Missouri Valley Conference All-Sports Trophy standings. ISU recorded a score of 3.538, its highest in school history.

    June 25, 2014 6 Photos

  • SPT021914ISUMBB odum.jpg Jake Odum about to reach red letter date in his career

    Terre Haute’s Jake Odum made a name, a reputation and a wonderful career for himself during his four seasons at Indiana State. If nothing else were to happen in his basketball life, he’ll always be one of the Sycamores’ all-time best.
    Of course, Odum wants more. He wants to play in the NBA. Since ISU’s season concluded in late March, he’s been on a three-month quest to fulfill his dream.

    June 24, 2014 3 Photos 1 Story

  • Metro roundup: Odum to work out with Lakers

    Terre Haute native and former Indiana State guard Jake Odum will have two more workouts before next Thursday’s NBA Draft. Odum will work out with the Los Angeles Lakers today. Odum will have a second workout with the Orlando Magic next week before the draft.

    June 20, 2014 1 Story

  • ISU takes balanced approach with newcomer Tre Bennett

    Indiana State’s men’s basketball program recruited Tre Bennett to be its next starting point guard. Indiana State does not want to put too much pressure on Bennett in his first season.
    Those two sentences seem to be a contradiction. But ISU’s coaches and Bennett himself are hoping there’s a third way, a path where he can ease into a role as a contributor without the pressure, at least right off the bat, of being “the man.”

    June 18, 2014

  • SPT061214 ISUMBB parker.jpg New ISU coach Parker makes first impression

    Indiana State assistant coach Terry Parker hasn’t had too much time to make a first impression.
    Officially hired in late April, but identified as Dave Ragland’s replacement on Greg Lansing’s staff long before that, there haven’t been many team activities for Parker to take part in since he joined ISU’s staff from Utah Valley.

    June 13, 2014 2 Photos

  • Greggmar Swift advances to NCAA hurdles final

    Greggmar Swift advanced to the finals of the 110-meter hurdles to highlight Indiana State’s performances during day two of the NCAA Outdoor Championships at Hayward Field.

    June 13, 2014

  • Katie_Wise_(Credit_Chris_Zoeller).jpeg ISU taking mix of veterans, underclassmen to NCAAs

    With three sophomores among Indiana State’s record number of entrants heading to the NCAA outdoor track and field championships, the Sycamores are in position to have athletes competing for a national title for at least a couple more seasons.
    Katie Wise, in particular, has the potential to rack up multiple All-American accolades between now and the time she graduates in 2016.

    June 11, 2014 1 Photo

  • Pair of Sycamores selected in Major League Baseball draft

    Two Indiana State baseball players were chosen in the 2014 Major League Baseball draft Saturday.
    Senior shortstop Tyler Wampler, a 2010 graduate of West Vigo High School, went to the Los Angeles Dodgers in the 17th round (519th overall) and junior catcher Mike Fitzgerald went to the San Diego Padres in the 27th round (807th overall).

    June 7, 2014

  • SPT041113lutz point.jpg Ex-Sycamore Lutz begins NFL journey with Colts

    The end of the journey. Or, really, just the beginning. That's how former Indiana State center FN Lutz described his emotions after signing a free-agent contract with the Indianapolis Colts on Wednesday morning.

    June 4, 2014 1 Photo

  • Metro roundup: Rex opener postponed to today

    The Terre Haute Rex grand opening has been pushed back to today due to Monday’s thunderstorms.

    June 2, 2014

  • SPT 053114 LANDON CURRY FLY.jpg ISU baseball can't find lifeline

    Indiana State ends NCAA regional with 0-2 mark as its season ends.

    May 31, 2014 3 Photos

  • SPT 053114 MITCH HANNAHS.jpg FROM THE PRESS BOX: Hannahs strikes pitch perfect no-excuse, no-apology tone

    ISU coach Mitch Hannahs strikes pitch perfect no-excuse, no-apology tone.

    May 31, 2014 1 Photo

  • SPT 053014 KEAFFABER THROW.jpg Despite loss, ISU's Keaffaber draws praise

    Indiana State pitcher Ryan Keaffaber lost to Stanford in NCAA regional, but his effort was lauded.

    May 30, 2014 2 Photos

  • SPT 053014 CURRY SCORE.jpg Stanford's Quantrill controls Sycamores

    ISU is beaten 8-1 by Stanford in NCAA Regional.

    May 30, 2014 3 Photos

Latest News
TribStar.com Poll
AP Video
Looming Demand Could Undercut Flight Safety Raw: 2 Shells Hit Fuel Tank at Gaza Power Plant Raw: Massive Explosions From Airstrikes in Gaza Giant Ketchup Bottle Water Tower Up for Sale Easier Nuclear Construction Promises Fall Short Rodents Rampant in Gardens Around Louvre Judge OKs Record-setting $2B Sale of Clipper Mother of 2 Makes NFL Cheerleading Squad at 40 Raw: Massive Dust Storm Covers Phoenix Kerry: Humanitarian Cease-fire Efforts Continue UN Security Council Calls for Gaza Cease-fire US Ready to Slap New Sanctions on Russia Traditional African Dishes Teach Healthy Eating Today in History for July 29th Raw: Earthquake Rocks Mexico's Gulf Coast Raw: Airstrike Shatters Fragile Calm in Gaza Fish Oil Plant Blast Kills One Raw: Shipwrecked Concordia Completes Last Voyage Deadly Ebola Virus Threatens West Africa Fox Dons 'Bondage Strap' Skirt at Comic-Con
NDN Video
Weird 'Wakudoki' Dance Launches Promotional Competition Chris Pratt Adorably Surprises Kids at a 'Guardians of the Galaxy' Screening Chapter Two: Designing for Naomi Watts NOW TRENDING: Peyton Manning dancing at practice "The Bachelorette" Makes Her Decision Thieves pick the wrong gas station to rob Golden Sisters on '50 Shades' trailer: 'Look At That Chest!' Staten Island Man's Emotional Dunk Over NYPD Car - @TheBuzzeronFOX GMA: Dog passes out from excitment to see owner Baseball Hall of Famers Inducted 'Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 1' Sneak Peek Florida Keys Webcam Captures Turtles Hatching Morgan Freeman Sucks Down Helium on 'Tonight Show' Robin Wright Can Dance! (WATCH) She's Back! See Paris Hilton's New Carl's Jr. Ad Big Weekend For Atlanta Braves In Cooperstown - @TheBuzzeronFox Chapter Two: Becoming a first-time director What's Got Jack Black Freaking Out at Comic-Con? Doctors Remove 232 Teeth From Teen's Mouth Bradley Cooper Explains His Voice in 'Guardians of the Galaxy'
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