Sculptor captures motion in Mazeroski
Susan Wagner has already captured the grace of Roberto Clemente and the raw power of Willie Stargell in life-size statues at PNC Park.
Today, at 12:45 p.m., the local sculptor completes an artistic trifecta when the Pittsburgh Pirates unveil a bronze figure of a jubilant Bill Mazeroski rounding the bases in Forbes Field at 3:36 p.m. Oct. 13, 1960.
In the bottom of the ninth inning, he hit the game-winning home run against the heavily favored New York Yankees to give the Pittsburgh Pirates their first championship since 1925.
"I can't wait to see his face," said Ms. Wagner during an interview on the inviting porch of her Friendship home. "I'll be looking at his face to see his reaction."
The life-size bronze of the second baseman, who turns 74 today, was inspired by the iconic photograph snapped by now-retired Pittsburgh Post-Gazette photographer James Klingensmith.
"I copied that photograph exactly. That's what the Pirates wanted," Ms. Wagner said, adding that ensuring authenticity involved watching telecasts of the 1960s World Series and looking at historic mementos loaned to her by the team.
"I had the uniform in front of me," she said. "I counted the buttons."
Although Maz is running and one foot is in the air, Ms. Wagner said, "I can't make him levitate. The left foot is a lot flatter because it had to be stable."
Her first, unforgettable encounter with one of the city's best-known heroes happened at a Pittsburgh Pirates fan fest in the mid-1990s, when she waited to get his autograph.
She said he told her, "I love your work, Susan. If they ever make a statue of me, I hope you get to sculpt it."
"Last October, when it was all decided, he threw his arms around me. He started crying. He's very sweet, very humble," Ms. Wagner said.
After the clock on this project began ticking, work intensified in February. While Western Pennsylvanians battled the aftermath of the memorable storm dubbed "Snowmageddon," Ms. Wagner drove daily to a vast warehouse in East Butler to work on the statue. The nerve-wracking journey took two hours round trip.
"I'm terrified to drive in the snow," she said.
Once at work, she climbed a 15-foot ladder to reach a 10-foot-high scaffold, which allowed her to look over the sculpture. She does not sketch her figures but visualizes them fully completed.
"It frustrates me to have to sit and draw because I can't draw 350 degrees around. It's too flat," she said. "So I just dive right in because I know the outcome."
She loves to sculpt moving figures.
"The more movement the better for me. I love the way the muscles work. I see it in my head. I see how the muscles move and how the bones will turn. I love to do hands and faces," she said.
Ms. Wagner often catches herself gazing at strangers' faces. And when she sculpts, "Once I get the face, everything else falls into place," she said, adding that Mr. Mazeroski has "a very average-looking face."
Intially, Ms. Wagner made a 13-inch-high model of Mr. Mazeroski in her home studio. Matthews International, a Pittsburgh-based company, took the model, called a maquette, and used a computer model to enlarge it.
"The more I can move, the better it is," said Ms. Wagner, who prefers to work with oil-based clay, which holds its shape, never dries out and is ideal for figure sculpting.
This time, she used desulphured clay.
"It was like working with dried window putty or candle wax," she said. "The clay needed to be heated as I was working on it. I was working under these huge industrial heaters."
Sometimes, the clay dripped. Other times, it was hard as rock. Outside, wintry blasts continued. Inside, Ms. Wagner wore lightweight clothes because she was working under hot lights in an especially large space. While she shaved, cut and carved the clay to create the face, hands, folds and shoes, chunks of the clay stuck to her shoes.
"I'd grow a couple of inches at the end of every day. I'm walking like Frankenstein. I was exhausted because of the intense heat," she recalled.
At the end of long work days, sleep eluded her.
"At night, I tried to lie down on the couch. I wrote in my journal. I woke up often and could not get back to sleep," she recalled.
McCandless sculptor Michael Kraus assisted Ms. Wagner.
"She's really good at sculpting the body and the musculature. She would work all day on a hand, decide she didn't like it, tear it apart and do it again," said Mr. Kraus, who is also curator at Soldiers and Sailors Memorial Hall and Museum in Oakland. "A lot of what she did up there was by eye. Many people would measure. She knew the finish she wanted."
In mid-March, four men from Italy arrived to make the mold, which was sent for casting to a foundry in Parma, Italy, owned by Matthews International.
She enjoys seeing her work cast in bronze, which she calls "a warm metal.
"It's enduring. Bronze holds its own," she said. "It's easier to cast than steel. Good bronze is 80 percent copper. The glow of it is very appealing. People go and touch it."
The Italian artisans, Ms. Wagner said, were personable as well as professional -- although they were shocked to discover she was a female. One of the men thought she would be "a big gorilla woman. Women sculptors in Italy do not do large pieces."
In July, the Italians returned to apply the patina. To show her appreciation when the job was finished, Ms. Wagner made and served breakfast at her home to Carlo Storci, the artistic patina foreman, Sandro Agnello, the finishing supervisor, and Davide Lanzi, the production manager.
For the sculptor, the statue represents a year's worth of planning, meetings and intensely demanding, physical work.
"I understand that I'm capturing a moment in history. I know they celebrate it every year. I understand that I'm making emotions tangible for people.
"They can go up and touch it and relive beautiful memories of their childhood. I'm real happy I can do that for them," she said. "That makes it all worthwhile."
First Published September 5, 2010 12:00 am