“Well Red” — The Bucky Sculpture

A Monument to Enduring Badger Spirit

Well Red is a nearly eight-foot high bronze and glass sculpture of the university’s beloved mascot, Bucky Badger. It was created by renowned sculptor Douwe Blumberg, with glass artist Dan Neil Barnes. Blumberg’s sculptures grace public and private collections both national and international. Recent major works include America’s Response Monument overlooking Ground Zero in New York City and the two-acre Nevada State Veterans’ Memorial — Las Vegas.

An interview with bronze sculptor Douwe Blumberg

Tell us about the materials you used to create Well Red.
What we’ve done is combine three-dimensional stained glass with a traditional bronze sculpture. It allowed us to add color that is really, really needed because of Bucky’s jersey. It’s such an iconic part of his image.
We’re using a combination of dark brown bronze and polished silver stainless steel for his face, because his face is white and brown, and that’s very iconic to the Badger image as well.

Then I got the idea of while we’re using stained glass, maybe we could illuminate that from the inside and really give it a different feel at night.
Is this combination of materials a first in your work?
We’re really inventing new things. Specifically, the use of three-dimensional stained glass with the bronze sculpture. The stained glass forms part of the sculpture… it just flows from one to the other very seamlessly.
Close-up of the sculpture's W. (Photo by Carla Minksy.)
I had to find a stained-glass artist. Dan Neil Barnes — he had done the most sculptural, three-dimensional glasswork that I had seen. We were able to create that “W” out of a single piece, which meant we had to take a second casting of Bucky’s chest to get the contours.
He was able to take the extra-thick brick glass and mount it inside his kiln until it became plastic and formed over the shape of the ‘W.’ Then we had to start grinding the edges of the ‘W,’ and gradually fitting it, fitting it, fitting it until it drops just perfectly into the ‘W’ channel that we left in the bronze.
How did you capture Bucky’s unique shape at life-and-a-half size?
We basically carve it full-size out of foam. Then we put about an inch layer of clay over that foam. I sculpt that.
You end up with a full-sized clay version. In this case, we cut it in pieces and brought it to the foundry, a mold maker in Oklahoma. We estimate that probably 50 pieces were welded together. Then it has to be ground and polished so that it becomes a seamless piece.
In each of your works, you try to capture a unique spark of life. What’s the spark you see in Bucky?
I wanted to take a college mascot and turn it into a great piece of art. Those things seemed like they wouldn’t go together. That was the challenge.
I wanted to create him being forward-thinking, being very pensive. I was visually motivated by Rodin’s The Thinker. But he’s Bucky Badger. There’s kind of that whimsical puckishness that people associate with him. That’s something you want to capture as well.
I mean, Bucky doesn’t really exist. He’s a suit. Or he’s a graphic image, he’s a drawing. I wanted to create something that feels like he’s come alive. And I think we did. The welcoming, openness… combined with his pose and his face. He looks very real.
How does this piece encourage park visitors to interact with the sculpture?
You build it as strong as possible. And then you put it on a cushion of silicone, and there’s metal underneath to support it. He actually weighs about 2,500 pounds.
I love the idea of the books. Books always communicate learning and knowledge. The books make a perfect platform, almost a stairway to get up to Bucky, and to stand and sit on the books themselves.
The idea of not raising him way high, or surrounding him with a chain, is so you actually can touch the sculpture, and you actually can sit here.
A bad frame can ruin a great painting. And I can tell you that it’s even more true with a statue. This is the opposite. We’re going to have a world-class site, between the new park and the new background and the armory behind it, and the light… it’s like an artist’s dream come true.

— Interview edited for length and clarity. Learn more about the artists at douwestudios.com and danbarnesglassart.com.

Douwe Blumberg Lecture

Shortly after the opening of Alumni Park, Blumberg stopped by One Alumni Place to discuss the original idea behind Well Red the process that took it from a concept to completion.