Gerry Kulzer molds one of the heads with Jenna Tanttila at Brodin Studios. Photo by Tom Hauer
A bronze statue depicting military families is being built for the new $1 billion Darnell Army Medical Center in Fort Hood, Texas, and the statue has a local connection. Residents from Litchfield, Kimball, Howard Lake, Grove City and New London will be a part of the making and design of the statue that will be a welcoming piece at the front of the Army hospital.
The architect company working on the Fort Hood hospital is HKS of Dallas, and coincidently is the same company that is building the new Vikings stadium in Minneapolis. HKS contacted Neil Brodin of Brodin Studios of Litchfield the summer of 2011 and asked him if he was interested in building a statue for the new Fort Hood hospital. A half a year later Brodin Studios was named a finalist to build the bronze statue.
Brodin went to Texas with his reference letters for an interview with the hospital committee. One reference Brodin had was from Gen. John Vesse. “My brother Roger had done a portrait of John Vesse when he was retiring from the chairmanship of the joint chiefs,” said Brodin. That connection was a key for Brodin to get the bid. General Vesse spent a lot of time at Ford Hood and knew a lot of people there. Instead of sending a letter, Gen. Vesse called the people on the committee and gave them a reference for Brodin Studios. Two months later, Brodin Studios was awarded the bid over other memorial companies.
Brodin has been in the sculpting business for 37 years and has created more than 300 large statues for military, police and firefighters. “It’s about the people inside the uniform. We pay tribute to the person inside the uniform,” said Brodin. He has also built thousands of miniature bronze sculptures and recently made the Golden Globe Statue awards.
“The Fort Hood committee sent me a photograph of a young soldier, his wife and two children posing in front of the hospital,” said Brodin. “The soldier was in a parade rest position. I thought it was totally unnatural. He is not walking out of the hospital with his wife and two kids and then all of a sudden go into parade rest. There is no officer saying “attention” or “at ease.” It wasn’t realistic. All of our police and firefighter figures are doing a job they do most of their career. They seem comfortable at it. The wrinkles are in the right place and the facial expression is just what it should be. The first thing I said is you can do the statues but I don’t like what is laid out there.”
Bruce Cottington, of Litchfield, and the Don Ommodt family, of New London, posed for a photo to be turned into large sculptures by Brodin Studios.
The bronze, larger-than-life statue that Brodin decided on is portraying an active military man with his wife, a son, a daughter and a newborn baby leaving the hospital and extending a hand to greet an older veteran who is entering the hospital. It will be 150 percent of lifesize, making a 6-foot tall person into a 9-foot statue. You will be able to see it 150 yards away. “The focal point of the statue is in the handshake, because the handshake is the meeting of generations, a friendship, young and old,” said Brodin. Brodin anticipates the statue will be shipped next spring and installed at Fort Hood. He plans on being at Fort Hood with President Obama and Vice President Biden when the statue is unveiled.
Bruce Cottington, of Litchfield
Brodin knew Bruce Cottington, of Litchfield, who is a veteran and served in the Navy during WWII and the Korean War and asked him to be in the veteran statue. Cottington enlisted in the Navy at the age of 15. He and six brothers served in the military. He is active with the Legion, VFW, Memorial Squad, and is the state commander of a national organization called Veterans of Underage Military Service (VUMS). Because Fort Hood is an Army base, Cottington’s statue will be an Army veteran and the name on his uniform will be Hood not Cottington.
The family members that posed for the statue is the Don Ommodt family from New London. Brodin was visiting the Litchfield National Guard Armory one day and Ommodt and his family happened to be at the Armory. Brodin asked Don if he would be interested in posing for the statue and he agreed. Don, who joined the National Guard in 1991, is a staff sergeant, and his wife, Chasity, daughter Gabriella, age 7 and son Jaryn, age 11, are the models used for the statue. The Ommodts also have another daughter who is a twin to Jaryn and her name is Isabella, but she is not one of the models. “I feel it is a real privilege to represent the Legion side of the monument,” Ommodt said.
The reference photo was formed into small clay figurines before it was turned into large sculptures by Brodin Studios, of Litchfield. The sculptures, once complete, will be erected at Fort Hood in Texas.
Brodin works with several artists in the area. One of them is Gerry Kulzer who was the art teacher at Litchfield for nearly 20 years and now teaches art for elementary students at Atwater. Kulzer first met Brodin when he took a class to tour Brodin Studios in Litchfield. Since then they have done work together on various art projects. Kulzer translated the photograph of the veteran and military family into a 6-inch miniature clay sculpture and then 18-inch models that helped create the 9-foot bronze statues. “I’m honored to be a part of such a prestigious (and large) project,” said Kulzer. “I’m in awe that I could be exclusively responsible for sculpting every head, hand and foot of each 9-foot tall sculpture, in addition to modeling 6-inch and 18-inch versions. It’s an amazing opportunity that was simply dropped in my lap. I thank God for giving me the ability and opportunity to do this awesome work!” Brodin also worked with Willis Chase, an artist from Grove City.
Nick Christensen, owner of NKC Sculptures, Inc. of Kimball is responsible for the molding in wax, the crosshatching texture in wax, and the “after casting” metal work, (including some welding of the pieces together). Tom Miller and Christensen at NKC do the welding and final patina of the bronze. Christensen is an artist and he worked for Brodin before starting his own sculpting business.
Tom Miller, the welder, with one of the large pieces of the statue.
Brodin then contacted Casting Creations Foundry in Howard Lake who recently added a new laser system to their casting process. They scanned the contours of the body and created 9-foot forms made of plastic foam. Kulzer, Christensen and Chase then carved the molds, and Miller welded the bronze statue pieces together.
Brodin feels honored to be a part of this Fort Hood sculpture project. “The statues have a story,” Brodin said. “I hope they’re meaningful to the people who receive them.” Cottington said he feels honored to be part of the project, and he feels this statue will give him immortality because the bronze memorial will be around a long time.