In this edition of The Art Of, I had the opportunity to talk on the phone with the artist who did the famed statue of Art Rooney Sr. that sits outside of Heinz Field. I was fascinated and surprised by what this Pittsburgh native had to say about this iconic structure of a true Steel City hero.
I am continually amazed by how easy it has been to get artists to call me back. I suppose artists, regardless of how well established or accomplished, need all the exposure they can get, even if it is from some no-name blogger not unlike myself. Needless to say, our conversation was, though awkward at first, certainly fun and informative. It actually took me some time to track him down, thankfully Kathy Rooney helped me out by hipping me to his website. Similar to my interview with Kathy, Ray Kaskey was open and honest about how this whole thing went down.
A Pittsburgh native, Raymond Kaskey studied architecture at Carnegie Mellon University from ’61-’67, and earned a Master of Environmental Design Degree from Yale University in 1969. After moving around and accepting positions at various schools around the US for a couple years, Ray settled in Washington D.C. where he has been a registered architect since 1974.
As can be expected in a project like this one, Dan Rooney was the head of the committee that headed up the funding and design approval for the project. There was also a former Steeler, then prof at Carnegie Mellon, on the committee, but Mr. Kaskey could not remember his name.
Money Money Money…Mooonaaaay
The committee headed by Dan Rooney had the task of raising the funds to have the statue built and installed in front of what was then Three Rivers Stadium. Since the project didn’t originate with the Rooney family, they were not responsible for paying for the project. I suppose no one ever got rich paying artists to do big commissions.
After raising the money, they called a studio in Washington D.C. who recommended they hire Kaskey outright. It was simply a bonus that the best guy for the job was from Pittsburgh and a big Steelers fan. So, without any competition, Kaskey took on the job of designing the statue.
After all was said and done the project cost the committee more than $371,000 and took more than two years to finalize the design and create the sculpture.
Aye, there’s the rub
The real drama of the project was the design. After getting some photos from Dan Rooney of Art Sr., Kaskey came up with several designs that included Art Sr. with a cigar in his mouth. “There are hardly any photos of him when he doesn’t have a cigar in his mouth,” Ray told me. Dan Rooney was adamant in his thought that having a cigar in The Chief’s mouth would set a bad example for the children that would be attending games. “You can’t just stick it in an ash tray next to him,” Kaskey said, laughing. “That’s when we came up with the seated pose, and the cigar sort of gesturing.”
Kaskey actually finds the statue’s location to be a bit of a disappointment now, nearly 25 years later. He went back to see it a few years ago, and expressed frustration with how hard it is to find now that Three Rivers has been torn down and Heinz Field has been built nearby. “There is a lot of growth around it now that makes it hard to see.” He sounded a little sad that it was almost forgotten when the old stadium was torn down and the new one was built.
The Statue now sits just in the foreground of the Gate D tower that peers over it in the background. The Gate D tower is actually the last remaining piece of Three Rivers Stadium that was kept and used for Heinz Field, along with Kaskey’s statue, of course. When I asked Kathy Rooney what she thought of the statue she told me, “…I love this statue. It is a great likeness of my uncle – looks just like him.” I’d say Mr. Kaskey did a mighty fine job.
The statue is still a popular place for families to bring their kids and take pictures next to the Chief. It is only right that Art Sr. now sits out in the city, where people can admire him as the warm and generous pride of Pittsburgh. He was known for giving dollar bills to young children, and driving around the city staying involved in the city’s happenings. He would even make sure that his grounds keeper’s (whom he referred to as a “member of his organization”) mother has a ride to and from the hospital. He was always so genuinely concerned and involved in the well being of the people of Pittsburgh, and this statue is the least the city could do to honor him.
The cool thing about artists is that there is always more to see. If you’re ever in the DC area, Kaskey has done many works around the city including the WWII Memorial, pictures of which can be seen here. The self-described culmination of his career, Kaskey says this about his work on the WWII Memorial.
"Located on the National Mall in Washington D.C., the sculptures celebrate the victory of the American people in WWII. The price of victory and the transformation of America is depicted both by allegorical and realistic bronze sculptures which are integrated with the architecture."
Needless to say, his other work is worth checking out. In fact, if your high school or middle school ever took a trip to D.C. like mine did, you’ve probably seen some of Kaskey’s work. Fitting isn’t it? That some of Kaskey’s most prolific work has to do with our beautiful country’s history, and the Steelers are this country’s greatest professional sports team? I’d say there’s not much of a coincidence there.
To see more of Ray Kaskey’s work, check out his website here.