Sculpture of Astronaut Sally Ride, Created in Colorado, Headed to Museum | Content reserved for subscribers
A bronze sculpture of astronaut Sally Ride has been completed and is heading to the Cradle of Aviation Museum on Long Island, New York.
The sculpture, created by artists from Lundeen Sculpture in Loveland, celebrates the late Sally Ride, America’s first female astronaut, who flew on the shuttle Challenger in 1983 and again in 1984.
She left NASA in 1987 to teach at the University of California, San Diego and actively encouraged women to study science and math. Ride died in 2012 of cancer.
The statue was commissioned by documentary filmmaker Steven Barber.
Barber, who calls himself a “salesman,” has long been a fan of military and space travel.
When a movie deal with astronaut and moonwalker Buzz Aldrin fell apart a few years ago, Barber discovered there were few memorials to American astronauts, and none to NASA itself.
“There was one from Harrison Schmidt, who was on Apollo 17 or 16, and it was behind a Piggly Wiggly somewhere in Texarkana,” Barber told The Denver Gazette.
Others existed, but Barber thought there should be more recognition, so he contacted NASA to find out why it didn’t have any. After long attempts, NASA finally responded by saying, “Mr. Barber, the reason there are no monuments is because we don’t have an art commission at NASA. We send people into space, we build rockets, we don’t do that,” Barber said.
But NASA referred it to the Kennedy Space Center in Florida, and the concessionaire that runs it agreed to feature a sculpture in the Center’s Moon Garden if Barber could have it made.
Barber raised $750,000 in donations to create his first Apollo 11 astronaut sculpture for NASA’s 50th anniversary and commissioned Lundeen Sculpture to make it.
Since then, he has been browsing the inventory of astronauts. One of his future projects for which he is trying to raise funds is a sculpture of women “Hidden Figures”.
The three African-American mathematicians – Katherine Johnson, Mary Jackson and Dorothy Vaughan – worked for NASA at the dawn of spaceflight and were known as “computers in skirts” for their ability to perform complex calculations. They were featured in the 2016 movie “Hidden Figures,” based on Margot Lee Shetterly’s book.
Lundeen Sculpture is recognized as one of the finest bronze sculpture studios in the country. It manufactures all the giant sculptures that Scheels All Sports displays outside its stores.
The company was founded in 1976 by George Lundeen, who studied sculpture in college and was originally from Holdrege, Nebraska. He moved to Loveland after working in foundries around the world.
“I was teaching at the University of Nebraska in Kearney, Nebraska. I quit my job, moved here and worked for the foundry for a year or two, met a lot of sculptors, a lot of of art dealers. … Best shot I’ve ever done,” Lundeen told The Denver Gazette.
He was joined by his younger brother Mark in 1981, who took up sculpting straight out of college.
“I took a lot of art classes when I was young and I’ve always been good at it, but I never thought that was what I would do until I moved here. in Loveland and start working with George,” said Mark Lundeen. “I just figured if George could do it, I could do it.”
The company has about thirty employees, many of whom are themselves artists and sculptors. Many have been in the business for decades.
Loveland is a hotbed of bronze sculpture, in part because there are two top quality bronze foundries in the city of 81,000, 46 miles north of Denver.
George Lundeen says the two bronze foundries are the best in the country.
“We get sculptors from all over the world who come to Loveland to do their castings,” he said.
They started sculpting Sally Ride about eight months ago. The first clay version melted in a fire in the building and George Lundeen had to recreate it.
“We did it again, and like most things you do a second time around, you catch a few things you might have done differently,” he said.
Asked about the permanence of bronze sculptures, George Lundeen said: “Well, you have to realize that these things are not necessarily permanent. For example, years ago I did a Thomas Jefferson and it ended up in a number of public places and universities. Now a number of them have been removed because Thomas Jefferson is no longer as respected, you might say, as he once was.
When asked what happened to the banned characters, George Lundeen laughed, “We got a Thomas Jefferson and a Ben Franklin out of a school in Kansas, and we called a school in North Dakota. North and they said, ‘Sure, we’ll take them.'”
A large sculpture like Sally Ride costs around $200,000, said George Lundeen, who tries not to undervalue his work.
“You do it once in a while, but I try not to underestimate myself these days,” he said. “But I always say, where were these people when I was 25, when I was starving?”