UI grad putting finishing touches on Grange statue

UI grad putting finishing touches on Grange statue

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Go to George Lundeen's Web site and you'll see sculptures of animals, athletes, astronauts, explorers and presidents.

What he really wanted to add to his collection was Red Grange. There were three sculptors competing to do a piece on the Illini legend, but Lundeen had an advantage over the others.

"When they called me, I said, 'Who else do you have in mind?' " Lundeen said. "They gave me a couple other names of people who were interested in the project. I said, 'That's great. How many of them have gone to school there?' "

Lundeen earned his masters in fine arts from Illinois in 1973. And he got the job.

Lundeen is completing the 12-foot high bronze statue of Grange, which will be unveiled during the upcoming season. Delivery is expected in the summer, with Lundeen bringing the statue on a flatbed truck from his Loveland, Colo., studio.

The statue, with an estimated cost of $350,000 paid by an anonymous donor, will sit on a 14- to 18-foot base west of Memorial Stadium. The statue will be located near the middle of the stadium, offering views from the ground and from the windows of the new luxury suites.

The base will be made from the same brick and limestone used at Memorial Stadium.

Why put it up so high?

"As long as they have fraternity boys at the University of Illinois, we've got to keep it out of their reach," Lundeen said.

The height will also keep opposing fans from putting, say, a Michigan helmet on top of Red.

"That too," Lundeen said. "Anybody with a hacksaw, we want to keep them away."

In the statue, Grange will be standing on one leg, ball in hand, "hellbent for the goalline," Lundeen said. "That's not the title. We're just going to call it 'Harold "Red" Grange.' "

While the statue is twice Grange's height, the figure is actually cubed, which makes him eight times bigger than lifesize.

"If he were to be this tall, he would weigh almost a ton," Lundeen said. "He's going to be pretty big."

It takes plenty of material to build a 12-foot statue. Lundeen said he will use about two tons of copper on Red. But it's built to last.

"When the stadium is long gone and everybody's forgotten about it, there will still be a Red Grange statue," Lundeen said. "Statues always seem to last longer than anything else."

Lundeen has been sculpting for decades. Sports have been part of his repertoire, with recent pieces going to Scheels sporting good stores.

The first athlete Lundeen sculpted was golfer Gene Sarazen. It was ordered by the Atlanta National Golf Club. Later, Lundeen did sculptures of Dan Marino and Don Shula.

To get Grange close to the real thing, Lundeen looked over as many photos as he could get his hands on. The school and the Chicago Bears provided help. But Lundeen wanted to depict Grange from the Illinois era.

Illinois also showed Lundeen a jersey, helmet and cleats from Grange's time.

Because of his Illinois background, Lundeen knew about Grange before starting the work.

"I always thought, 'Boy, that's a heckuva deal to have the greatest football player of the 20th century come out of your school,' " Lundeen said. "I really felt good when I went and saw their new boxes and saw how they have used that. He is everywhere."

At first, Illinois officials discussed a lifesize statue. Lundeen wanted something bigger.

"Even 12 feet isn't going to look real big outside," Lundeen said. "It's amazing how small something looks when you get it scaled up against something like the stadium."

Bob Asmussen

Categories (3):Illini Sports, Football, Sports

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illini50 wrote on February 22, 2009 at 2:02 pm

This is great and wish it was bigger but still awesome......Now all the DIA needs to do is start retiring numbers from the past to showcase these people so that incoming recruits see them in the rafters of assembly hall or the upper deck facade of memorial stadium. it shows history.