A sculptor who regularly immortalizes treasured icons has done it again — this time with six large-scale statues depicting the evolution of the Jayhawk.
Robin Richerson, the artist at Kansas City-based company Icon Artworks, has created six large-scale replicas of the Jayhawk mascot throughout history that will be permanently displayed at Ascher Plaza outside of the Kansas Union.
“This is a great opportunity for me,” Richerson said. “I think about all the photographs that graduates and people coming to the University for the first time and just all the people that’ll take photographs there with the Campanile in the background — it’s very significant.”
Richerson has been an artist since he graduated an art degree and has been working with bronze statues for the past 20 years. The family-owned-and-operated company’s mission is to immortalize treasured icons.
The statues were made at Ad Astra Art Bronze, a foundry in East Lawrence that produces bronze castings. Actual construction on the statues started in 2018, but the idea of creating large-scale statues has been around much longer.
Matt Palmer, Richerson’s nephew and the founder of Icon Artworks, said the company first presented small desktop models of the evolution of the Jayhawk to the University’s Endowment office. The company then started making small desktop versions of the evolution of the Jayhawk in 2010. It worked with the University to secure licensing to ensure their models accurately depicted the Jayhawk mascots.
Palmer said since meeting with the University, the goal of the company has always been to find a location on campus and secure financial support to create the large-scale monuments depicting the evolution of the Jayhawk, but it has taken some time. Less than a year ago, the location and donors were secured.
“It was really just our dream in general that, ‘Hey, someday, wouldn’t it be incredible to see these on campus somewhere?’” said Palmer, who graduated from the University in 1991.
Kwan Wu, a world-renowned bronze sculptor, who was brought to the United States by the University’s late professor of art Elden Tefft, mentored Richerson for years. Tefft created the sculpture of the “Academic Jay” outside of Strong Hall and Wu created the sculpture of Phog Allen outside of Allen Fieldhouse.
Icon Artworks makes its statues out of both bronze and pewter. The five statues of past Jayhawks that sit on the edge of the plaza are 3 feet tall and weigh anywhere from 100 to 200 pounds. The statue depicting the current Jayhawk displayed in the center of the plaza is 5 feet tall and weighs more than 600 pounds. The statues had to be put in place with a crane because of their weight.
“They’re very classy looking — it’s not a piece of plastic or a piece of resin that’s been painted,” Richerson said.
Richerson said he used a casting method called lost-plastic to make the large-scale Jayhawks statues instead of the traditional lost-wax casting method that has been used for more than 3,000 years, which he usually uses at Icon Artworks.
The lost-plastic method saved Richerson time in making the statues. First, small models of the Jayhawk are scanned using 3D technology and are then enlarged by a computer. The models are then printed in 20-inch cubes using 3D printers. Each cube can take up to 50 hours to print at a cost of $90 per hour.
The plastic pieces are then assembled together and a circulatory system is attached to secure them, then allowing the bronze to enter the mold and air to escape. After that, the plastic is dipped into a ceramic slurry, burning the plastic away. That’s where the method gets its name — the plastic is lost. While it’s still hot, bronze is poured into the mold and the seams are chased, and what’s left is the bronze statue.
“These monuments are going to be enjoyed for generations — it’s an enormous honor, and I could not be happier,” Palmer said.
Palmer said he takes pride in his company producing the statues in the United States. The company uses foundries in Kansas and other states. This specific project depicting the evolution of the Jayhawk was conducted locally by a Kansas City-based company, a Lawrence foundry and a University graduate.
“This has meant everything to me,” Palmer said. “I am a Jayhawk — I am a proud Jayhawk.”