Building a Mystery: UWG Celebrity Commissioned Sculpture | Archives
Jesse Duke ’18 has always been interested in the mysteries of the world.
In fact, a few close encounters inspired the University of West Georgia alumnus to create his most popular – and coveted – works of art.
“I’ve always had a life full of weirdness, where I was in the right place at the right time,” said Duke, who graduated from UWG in art. “Bigfoot wasn’t on my radar until a few weird things happened to me. I wanted to get the word out with whatever means I could, which were sculpture and painting. This is my love letter to the Sasquatch mystery.
Duke confessed that he had become an obsessed man, delving into existing research that began with the Patterson-Gimlin film, which is the 1967 clip of what purports to be Bigfoot’s first captured footage. He spent the next year working on “Patty” – both the name of his first yeti sculpture and the creature’s nickname in the original film.
Throughout the artistic process, Duke has remained as true to the legend as possible. Even in the muscadine vines of its “Patty’s” fur. The same day he sold “Patty”, Duke was asked if he could build a newer, custom Bigfoot. His new client: award-winning actor Stephen Dorff.
The differences between Duke’s first and second Bigfoot sculptures were subtle. “Patty” the female was 7 feet tall and took a year to create. “Sebastian” the male was 10 feet tall and Dorff wanted him in four months. Duke eventually hand-delivered “Sebastian” to Dorff’s home in Nashville, with a week to spare.
“People love Bigfoot,” Duke explained. “’Sebastian’ got over 1,000 shares on Facebook, which I’ve never seen from afar. So coming out of the Dorff commission and constantly trying to outdo myself, I decided to build another one.
Originally from Carrollton, Duke’s parents met at UWG as students. He enrolled in 2005, majoring in mass communication and as editor-in-chief of the West Georgian, the school’s newspaper. He took a break from college and worked in his parents’ restaurant for several years before deciding to return to UWG as a non-traditional student to study art.
“I realized that my time should be spent doing things that I love, which is creating things,” said Duke. “I signed up for the sculpture program and loved it.”
From studying abroad to working on the Bronze Wolf at University Stadium field, Duke said he was happy to be back in the West.
“Studying in Italy was a huge deal for someone who never left their hometown,” he said. “The chance to travel there and see sculptures that I had only seen in books – it was mind-blowing.”
Equally important are the relationships forged with the teachers. Duke said he even consulted a few on how to make his third Bigfoot stand.
“In addition to artistic techniques, you learn to be a professional artist and to juggle other things,” he explained. “I was the gallery assistant and met guest artists, which got me a job after graduation, working for the High Museum of Art as an art manager. I wouldn’t even have thought about it if I hadn’t gone back to school and helped Stephanie Smith in the galleries.
What’s next on the horizon for Duke? Another Dorff project, actually.
“I’m in talks with Stephen about a new commission, which is exciting and still a bit surreal,” he concluded. “The details are not finalized, but this will probably be my most ambitious sculpture to date. He has been a great patron and is very supportive of me and my work.