Bigfork artist sculpts Heisman winners

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Ken Bjorge works on a sculpture he is making of famed football coach John Heisman at his studio in Bigfork.

For months, Bigfork artist Ken Bjorge has worked in secret on monumental sculptures of three football greats and a bust of a coach and football pioneer, all tied to Auburn University in Alabama.

With the recent official university announcement, Bjorge was free to announce that he was commissioned to produce one-and-a-half life-size bronze statues of larger-than-life Auburn football greats Bo Jackson, Pat Sullivan and Cam Newton.

Bjorge also was hired to create a bust of John Heisman, Auburn’s head coach from 1895 to 1899. He inspired the Heisman trophy won by Jackson, Sullivan and Newton for outstanding college football performance with the Auburn Tigers.

While the word is now out, Bjorge can’t release photos of any of the works until the dedication of the pieces slated for placement on the east entry plaza of Auburn’s Jordan-Hare Stadium.

“The dedication is not until October,” he said.

According to Bjorge, the Montana-to-Alabama connection was that Auburn’s athletic director who had seen his sculptures of Heisman Trophy winner Earl Campbell and football coach Jim Owens. Those pieces were done for the University of Texas and University of Washington, respectively.

Auburn University was sufficiently impressed with his work to offer the Bigfork artist the commissions.

“Now I’ve done two coaches and four football players,” Bjorge said with a laugh. “Five more and I’ll have a team.”

Planning and production on the statutes of Jackson and Sullivan began in spring 2010. After delivering those to Auburn, he was offered commissions for a bust of Heisman and a one-and-a-half life-sized bronze of Newton, who won the Heisman after the 2010-11 season.

“I just delivered the bust of John Heisman,” Bjorge said.

Production on Newton started in February with the artist sculpting a 1/7th-size model for approval by Auburn before sending it to Kalispell Art Casting to enlarge to 9 feet, 9 inches with a final weight of more than 1,900 pounds. The local casting business has produced all the player statutes.

Although well-known locally for his western and wildlife pieces, Bjorge said he has created many human forms. His website features several including Owens, St. Francis of Assisi and a young boy examining a bullfrog.

“I’ve done lots of kids and other human forms in smaller scale,” he said. “It’s been a natural progression from smaller to larger commissions.”

Custom commissions now make up 75 to 80 percent of his workload. Wildlife sculpture also remains popular.

“I just delivered a 125 percent of life size elk for Wellfield Botanic Gardens in Elkhart, Indiana,” he said. 

A self-taught artist, Bjorge spent 20 years as a law professor before leaving the profession to pursue sculpting. He moved to Bigfork in 1988 and opened Bjorge Gallery in 1989.

Other clients include Metropolitan Life Insurance Co.; California State University of Los Angeles; Westinghouse Corp.;, The Living Desert Wildlife Park of Palm Desert, Calif.; Trademark Acquisition & Development Co. of Fort Worth; Lincoln Harris Corp.; and The International Order of St. Hubertus, as well as numerous private individuals.

Many people have seen Bjorge’s sculptures of a galloping mare and colt in front of Majestic Valley Arena and the grizzly bear in front of Flathead Bank of Bigfork.

 Bjorge said he enjoys college football so these commissions were particularly fun. He has done a lot of university pieces such as mascots in addition to the Owens and Campbell pieces.

The artist said he worked from photographs to produce the bronzes of Heisman, Jackson and Sullivan.

Jackson was a running back who won the Heisman in 1985. Sullivan, a quarterback for the Tigers, won the Heisman in 1971.

Bjorge said his task was easier with Newton as a current player with various media available of him in action.

Last season, Newton became Auburn’s third Heisman Trophy winner after throwing for 2,854 yards and rushing for 1,473. A Georgia native, he led the school to the BCS National Championship and Southeast Conference championship and broke the school record by racking up 51 touchdowns.

Bjorge admits relief that Auburn finally made the announcement of the production of the statutes.

“It’s been a struggle,” he said. “You have to operate under a cloak of secrecy.”

Reporter Candace Chase may be reached at 758-4436 or by e-mail at cchase@dailyinterlake.com .

 

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