According to the sculptor who created the Rutherford B. Hayes statue now standing on the southwest corner of Sandusky and William streets, it was no easy task to sculpt the 7-foot bronze likeness of the 19th president of the United States and Delaware’s most famous son.
“I have the best job in the world,” said Zanesville-based sculptor Alan Cottrill. Likewise, he’ll also be the first to admit that sculpting is nothing short of hard work at times.
Cottrill said while crafting the Hayes statue, he would, at times, get frustrated to the point where he would “spit at it.”
“I would cuss at it, and when I was all alone with it, I’d growl at it,” he said. “But, I’m really happy with the Hayes statue.”
According to Cottrill’s biography, he is a native Ohioan born and raised in the Appalachian region of the state.
“I’m the first to graduate from high school in my family,” Cottrill said.
After several attempts at college, a stint with the United States Army, and time spent driving a truck, Cottrill founded a successful pizza franchise that led to him becoming an international entrepreneur traveling the world.
In his travels, Cottrill visited many of the major art museums and galleries of the world, which led him to become first an art collector and later a painter.
It wasn’t until 1990 that Cottrill was first introduced to his medium. Touching clay for the first time, he proclaimed, “This is the mistress I’ve traveled the world in search of.”
Now more than 500 bronze castings later, Cottrill said his art is all around the world. His local pieces include a statue in Zanesville of novelist Zane Grey, the Ohio State University’s statue of coach Woody Hayes in front of the Woody Hayes Athletic Center, the statue of Olympian Jesse Owens in front of Jesse Owens Memorial Stadium at OSU, and a statue of OSU mascot Brutus, which is located just outside of the Schottenstein Center on Olentangy River Road in Columbus.
Cottrill alluded to a fact that the Hayes statue’s dimensions are loosely based on another statue of his sitting in the U.S. Capitol building in Washington, D.C. — Thomas Edison holding a light bulb at arm’s length as he stares at it very intensely. He considers the statue to be his most notable to date.
“It sits right outside the door of the Speaker’s chamber,” Cottrill said. “It was something really special to see that statue going in there when there wasn’t another soul around.”
Cottrill said when he takes on a new commission, he does a lot of reading about the subject before he begins to sculpt. He said in his research of Hayes, he discovered that he had been wounded several times during the Civil War and that Hayes was the first to use the presidential seal.
The statue, cast in bronze, sits atop a 28-inch high granite pedestal from Columbus Art Memorial Inc., a family business since 1922 now owned and operated by Carmine Menduni. Cottrill said he had the presidential seal incorporated into the pedestal.
The statue of Hayes’ likeness features him wearing an overcoat and holding a top hat in his right hand, while his left hand reaches into his inner coat pocket.
Cottrill said he tinkered with Hayes “to get a more powerful pose by making it appear as if he is looking for the better future of America.” He said the statue’s pose is based on a photograph of Hayes supplied by the Rutherford B. Hayes Comes Home committee.
“It was sculpted at 7 foot, but due to casting, the statue will wind up just under that,” he said. “The committee thought that it was a good scale for the statue.”
Cottrill said he started the sculpting process over a year ago. He sculpted a full-size head for the approval of the statue committee, but after taking a more in-depth look, he thought, “I could do better.” So he sculpted a second head and showed them both, side-by-side, to the committee.
“I didn’t want to disappoint the members of the committee,” he said. “It is a very complex piece, but they approved the new head.”
Cottrill said the only other project that he’s put more time into other than the Hayes piece was the Edison statue.
As for how his statues come together, Cottrill said he starts with a clay sculpture for which a mold is made for the bronze casting. He said he works with a highly-skilled, full-time bronze casting team at Coopermill Bronzeworks, which he and his long-time friend, Charles Leasure, founded in Zanesville.
Cottrill said the reason he sculpts is because of “human emotion.”
“I have to be true to the reason why I sculpt,” he said.
Contact D. Anthony Botkin at 740-413-0902. Follow him on Twitter @dabotkin.