Bronzed: West Statue Unveiled

Twenty-eight months, 800 pounds and a quarter-inch of bronze later, Morgantown-based sculpture Jamie Lester has brought to life the famous Jerry West photograph, the driving strength, ball in the right hand, balanced on just the heel of a single foot.

An action shot, one desired by WVU over the one thing Mr. Clutch was most known for: the arcing jumper that so often found the bottom of the net. That was considered, but the overwhelming notoriety of the late 1950s photo and its indelible link to the collegiate days pushed it to the forefront; it will be revealed Saturday when No. 22 West Virginia plays host to Seton Hall with West in attendance.

It's an irony, really, and one not lost on Lester, who had heard rumblings of a statue-to-be in September of 2005. "I contacted them about it; we talked," Lester said. "They had to do formal bids."

Lester's quote won, price not being the main factor. The sculpture had proven himself in a decade-long career with life-size firefighters and an eight-foot tall Mozes stature. This would be his largest undertaking. He was awarded the bid in April of 2006 and started in May. By then, he had developed methods and plans for the construction. A clay make-up took 12 weeks to finish, then another month of mold-making, then approval, fine changes and more tweaks and refinements.

The West Virginia administration saw the statue mold and wasn't sure it could sustain itself. An 800-pound, 6-6 likeness of a figurative demigod in the state, on one heel? He'd collapse, fall over. The balance wasn't there visually to a layman.

"I assured them that it was possible," Lester said, a 1997 graduate of the same institution that once taught him sculpture balance, now asking him if, really, he could do it. "It's balance and engineering. There are also stainless steel reinforcement molded into the base and within the piece. Bronze sculptures are all hollow. There's a quarter-inch thick wall that is uniform all the way around. With a quarter-inch, it still weighs 800 pounds. A solid statue would weight many tons and it would be uncastable. The material expands and contracts with the temperature, and it would crack at that thickness."

Something West never did. Now his likeness, 95 percent copper, four percent silicon, one percent manganese and nine-foot tall when one includes the three-foot base, should survive for thousands of years. Lester struggled at times with the head. It looked too big from certain angles, not large enough from others. The legs were too short at one time, West being all limbs and guts.

"His arms are so much longer than normal people, proportionally," Lester said. "And I did have to take some liberties in interpreting the pose. From the photo, you can't really tell how he was moving. But knowing Jerry West, I interpreted it as a fast run. I thought he would be moving quickly, lot of motion. I wanted to convey that, wanted you to feel that he was really moving."

So Lester looked at hundreds of archived pictures, using his computer to ensure that the face structure was correct. A nose needed adjusted here, and eye spaced further there. It worked to a remarkable likeness that, though being four inches taller than West's 6-2, has every other detail. The nose even lacks a bump, this having come before his nine broken ones during his career.

The wiry, 170-pound then-forward's jersey is riding up behind his shoulders, a product of speed and aggressiveness. He has the crew cut, the chiseled biceps, the slight forearms that lead to the fingertips, controlling the ball while the torso and legs power past. It's a monument not only to West, but also to Lester's ability to accurately portray his subjects diametrically. A native of Oceana, in Wyoming County, Lester is thoroughly a West Virginian, and says he and wife Michelle, a registered nurse at Ruby Memorial hospital, are firmly entrenched here with their three kids.

"That's why this is such a big deal to me," he said. "Being from here and having something that I will see, a part of my work, as I walk by the Coliseum, it's a dream. It's the largest piece I have ever done, and it will certainly help my portfolio. But it's bigger than that."

The statue will be unveiled to the general public in a 1:45 p.m. ceremony on Saturday. West is expected to speak. West Virginia tips at 4 p.m. against Seton Hall.

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