By Zane Fletcher, Culture Editor
The newest installation to the University of Nebraska at Omaha cultural landscape, the recently unleashed bull, stands proud and virile in front of the Health, Physical Education and Recreation building as a symbol of our school. Its impressive bronzed exterior presents a maverick in both physicality and representation – showing not only the school’s mascot but its direction and drive as well. Many students are now aware of its existence, but what has not yet been exposed is the origin of the proud monument.
On the secluded, wooded San Juan Island in Puget Sound, off the coast of Seattle, stands the workshop of artist and sculptor Jocelyn Russell. Russell working through the usually cold, but thankfully mild winter of the Pacific Northwest, created “Maverick,” a bronze casted, 8.5 foot tall, 1655-pound monolith of sheer artistic skill. The contours of the bull, so impressively lifelike, are a testament to Russell’s background in both veterinary science and as a former cattle rancher. The realism inherent in her work is not only due to her professional experience, but also her personal.
“I was born and raised in the country of southern Colorado,” Russell said. “My life has always been wrapped around nature and especially wildlife. I don’t hunt, but I am also not a vegetarian. My dad and brothers hunted however, so I was raised on wild game. Having the opportunity to study these animals while we processed them for the freezer has really made a difference in my understanding of animal anatomy.”
UNO reached out to Russell as one of five artists invited to submit proposals for the monument due to her recent bull monument at Utah State University. Initially enamored by the famous “Wall Street Bull” (a stylized, streamlined, cartoonish bull sculpture in New York City), Russell’s proposal captivated the minds of the selection committee. She submitted two such proposals: one, similar to that of “Wall Street”, showed a bull standing on all four legs. Her second proposal (the one eventually chosen) depicted a bull in full motion, head low to the ground and with an emotive face and tall, strong horns.
The process began with a vision. Russell began “Maverick” like she has each of her other 15 outdoor life-size installations, with a clay and wire model. She left the limbs and joints completely movable in order to fit the bull to her personal preference. She was asked to make the bull both fierce, yet also approachable – a difficult combination for any artist.
“Once the design is approved, I have it scanned and then enlarged in foam to the exact height required,” she said. “When the foam arrives, it is in several pieces (about 10 for Maverick) and is somewhat rudimentary in texture and detail. I assemble it and then begin refining detail, shaving and sanding the foam.”
Russell, whose canon includes many smaller models in addition to her large monuments, said that there is a lot to keep in mind when creating an outdoor installation.
“I have to bear in mind for the larger pieces that they will be outdoors and will likely get crawled on and otherwise tested for durability,” she said. “The actual creative process is largely in the sculpting of a small piece. Sculpting it on a large scale is a little more like building a house and involves more of construction mentality with ladders and power tools.
After working the foam to her exact specifications, a layer of clay was put over the foam, which Russell used to work in the finer details, such as the eyes and eyelashes. This is especially evident in the face and taut muscles of the bull, which demonstrate not only Russell’s intimate knowledge of bovine anatomy but also her precise skill. The final step is to send the bull to her foundry – Russell has used the same one, Adonis Bronze in Alpine, Utah, since 1998 – for casting in bronze. She then flew in for final alterations and approval. One question Russell was forced to ask regarded the undercarriage of the bull.
“There was some snickering when I asked the committee how well-endowed they would like their bull,” she remembered. “I told them if you make his parts too big, people with snicker. If you make them too small, people will snicker. How does an artist know when they are just right?”
Though she has completed many monuments, the UNO “Maverick” remains special to Russell because of the people that she met in the process.
“I have never worked on a monument project in which a committee was so involved and enthusiastic,” Russell said. “It was great to have so much energy infused into the project.”
The reception for Russell’s great opus has been nothing but positive. Students and faculty alike rave about the bull’s expression and realism and are delighted to have a tangible Maverick represent the university for many years to come.