In the course of history and politics in the early 20th century, Theodore Roosevelt brought us the legend of the Rough Riders and the bully pulpit, an awareness for the rights of immigrants and was the namesake of the teddy bear.
In the last year, Tempe sculptor Tom Bollinger researched the colorful and diverse personality of the 26th president of the United States for historical accuracy and to bring out more details of how he looked before he became part of the fabric of America’s political lore. Roosevelt, a robust Progressive and a barrel-chested bespectacled figure with a big grin, had a love for the great outdoors and fine art.
Bollinger, owner of Bollinger Atelier at 227 S. Rockford Drive in Tempe, has been commissioned to do sculptures throughout the country including sites in the Valley. He was on hand last Friday in Dickinson, N.D., for the unveiling of one of his recent pieces of work for the Theodore Roosevelt Center at Dickinson State University — an 800-pound, 7 1/2-foot tall bronze likeness of Roosevelt in front of the Stark County Courthouse as he looked when he delivered his first great national speech there on July 4, 1886.
The sculpture was completed in time for the center hosting the Theodore Roosevelt Symposium and Theodore Roosevelt Association comprising historians of the Nobel Peace Prize-winning president. The sculpture, which was a $75,000 commission awarded to Bollinger, was made possible by Stark County, the city of Dickinson and the Dickinson State University Foundation.
Among the crowd of about 250 in attendance for the well-received statue’s dedication included former North Dakota Gov. Ed Schafer, Dickinson Mayor Dennis Johnson, Roosevelt Rhodes Scholar Clay Jenkinson, Sharon Kilzer of the Theodore Roosevelt Center and Roosevelt’s great-grandsons Kermit and Tweed Roosevelt.
“It was a unique project, and a great event,” said Bollinger, 57, who returned to Arizona on Sunday. “I didn’t want to do the typical look of him as people remember him, but I wanted to make the image of him as he looked at that age when he made the speech — not the confidence he later had as president, but a resolute outlook on the future. No glasses or grin, but the cowboy look — wearing a buckskin shirt, the gun holster design and him slightly thinner.”
The sculpture went through about 300 hours of production work and Bollinger worked on the sculpture about 400 hours himself. The mock figure or proof of the sculpture was approved in March, and its full-scale version was approved in July. From there, it took 16 weeks to mold, cast and complete.
Bollinger now is working on a limited-edition series of 100 smaller versions of the Roosevelt sculpture so they can be sold as a fundraiser for the college.
One of Roosevelt’s ranches was in Medora, N.D., a scenic area in the western part of the state.
Bollinger also has a personal connection to North Dakota. A native of the state, he’s also an alumni of Dickinson State University where he earned bachelor’s degrees in fine arts sculpture and business administration and played football and wrestled. He grew up on the Sioux Indian reservations in both North Dakota and South Dakota where his parents were schoolteachers before his father became principal of the Phoenix Indian School, now Phoenix’s Steele Indian School Park.
You’d never know it if you drove past the two buildings where Bollinger Atelier occupies space in an industrial area off of Rio Salado Parkway, but the foundry, which employs 20 people, competes with other ateliers (French for “workshops”) throughout the world to do the labor-intensive preparatory work of sculptures for other renowned artists.
Bollinger bought the Tempe-based business 14 years ago when it was Arizona Bronze at 1820 E. Third St. He moved it to its current location three years ago and renamed the business last year.
Bollinger’s sculptures around the Valley include Atlas in front of Arcadia High School in east Phoenix, St. Francis at the Franciscan Renewal Center in Paradise Valley and French philosopher Albert Camus in the Las Sendas neighborhood of Mesa.
To follow the wishes of the Roosevelt sculpture committee, Bollinger also gave the figure an added touch — he placed Roosevelt standing atop a soapbox, carving the logo of Proctor and Gamble’s Ivory Soap from 1886 into the sides of the box to give it more of a contemporary look.
The success of Ivory Soap was a chemist’s mistake — as it was discovered to float in water. After that, soap manufacturers strived to make their soap float instead of sink.
Bollinger was quick to point out that Roosevelt was the same way early on in life — he could have floated or sank, but overcame a number of obstacles. He was sickly as a child and suffered from crippling asthma to the point he had to be home-schooled. On the same day in 1884, his wife died of complications from child birth and his mother died at age 49.
Roosevelt was born into a wealthy New York family, and grew to love the outdoors, hunting and fishing. He became a renowned outdoor writer of his time and often contributed stories to Harper’s Weekly Magazine. Roosevelt, who started the first art club in New York City, also was a founder of the Boone and Crocket Club and the National Collegiate Athletic Association.
Like Roosevelt the person, Bollinger hopes the sculpture will become an iconic figure.
“I learned a lot about Theodore Roosevelt I never knew,” Bollinger said. “I think the sculpture will be noticed and that the city plans to use it in some of their marketing materials. If art can help in destination marketing, that’s a good thing. I’m happy with the results.”
• E.V. Life runs on Fridays. Contact Mike Sakal at (480) 898-6533 or firstname.lastname@example.org or write to Mike Sakal, East Valley Tribune, 1620 W. Fountainhead Pkwy., Suite 219, Tempe, AZ 85282.