Theodore Roosevelt was larger than life. The New Yorker was an accomplished author by the age of 24, a well-known conservationist and an explorer. He led the legendary Rough Riders to victory in the Spanish-American War. He was an influential member of the New York State Assembly, and served as the New York City police commissioner, governor, vice president and finally president of the United States.
And, oh yeah, he was the first American ever to earn a brown belt in judo.
A figure of his stature deserves a larger-than-life memorial, and a Kalispell business is playing a critical role in providing just that. This year, Kalispell Art Casting constructed a 2,900-pound bronze sculpture of Roosevelt that will be put on display in San Antonio, Texas, not far from where Roosevelt gathered his Second Cavalry Brigade, better known as the Rough Riders.
The statue — titled Theodore Roosevelt, Rough Rider — was originally the creation of noted American sculptor Alexander Phimister Proctor, who designed it in the early 1920s, shortly after the 26th president’s death. Proctor was Roosevelt’s friend and was able to borrow some of his uniforms, side arms and hat to create an accurate figure. When Proctor finished the plaster sculpture, a mold was made and the figure was cast in bronze. The first sculpture was put on display in Portland, Ore., and a second one was erected in North Dakota.
Once a mold was made, Proctor had no need for his original plaster statue and gave it to a friend in North Dakota who stored it in a barn. When the new owner died, the sculpture was handed over to a museum, which stashed it in its vault for decades. Proctor’s family rediscovered it 15 years ago, and it was put on display at the Buffalo Bill Historical Center in Cody, Wyoming.
In recent years, Washington-based fine artist Jeff Oens has helped restore some of Proctor’s original plaster sculptures and, on some occasions, created new statues from the original pieces.
“It’s the chance of a lifetime to work on these pieces,” Oens said. “(Proctor’s) fingerprints are literally on each piece.”
Earlier this year, Oens started working with Kalispell Art Casting to construct a new bronze statue for San Antonio. Making a large bronze statue is a time-consuming and complicated process, but having been in business since 1979, Kalispell Art Casting is up to the task. Oens dropped off the molds in January, and over the next six months, the employees at Kalispell Art Casting made dozens of bronze pieces that eventually had to be welded together. The folks in Kalispell were so efficient that the project was finished before the display site was even ready for it.
Chris Lake with Kalispell Art Casting melted the bronze and helped craft each piece of the statue. For example, one leg was cast in two different pieces to make it more manageable.
“It’s amazing to see a statue like this come together from so many little puzzle pieces,” he said.
Last week, the statue was loaded onto a truck for the trip to Texas. Under a bright blue sky, a crane hoisted the massive statue into the air.
“Teddy rides again,” the crane operator joyfully yelled over the loud machinery.
Jack Muir, owner of Kalispell Art Casting, said he is proud that his shop was picked to make the statue and hopes it leads to future work.
“It’s quite the feather in our cap,” he said.