Unveiling nears for Tuskegee Airman statueThe unveiling of Duluth’s Tuskegee Airman bronze statue is almost a month away and coming along nicely, with just a bit of anxiety thrown in from the sculptor.
By: By Mike Simonson/Wisconsin Public Radio, Superior Telegram
The unveiling of Duluth’s Tuskegee Airman bronze statue is almost a month away and coming along nicely, with just a bit of anxiety thrown in from the sculptor.
University of Wisconsin-Superior Visual Arts Chairman Tim Cleary won the competition to design the life-size work of Joe Gomer, one of the Tuskegee Airmen to break the color barrier and fly combat missions over Europe during World War II.
While Cleary says it’s a work in progress, he says the statue has Gomer in his flight gear.
“I made a decision at one point that I wasn’t going to have the parachute itself part of it, everything but,” Cleary said “Sure they could rely on each other, their skills, their training, their will power. But there was some major safety net lacking back home. So I thought the absence of the parachute was important to me.”
Cleary says he’s also giving the likeness a wind-blown look.
“Almost like they’re being windblown either by the storms of war, the storms of civil rights, the literal wind off the airplane propeller perhaps. I want his expression to be enigmatic. Most war heroes, they have a sort of steely gaze. Pilots tend to be looking up into the sky, off into the distance looking for the airplane coming in. I was after something more with reflection, something the viewer could ask ‘What’s he thinking about?’” Cleary said
Northland Veterans Service is raising about $48,000 needed for the statue including Cleary’s commission and materials. Cleary says this is his first public work, so he’s got some butterflies in his belly.
“It’s a part where they’re probably really anxious, trusting me but worried at the same time, until I finish getting the wax together.”
“It’s beautiful. It’s really looking good,” says veteran activist Durbin Keeney of Duluth. He says they may exceed their fundraising goal, although they’re still short about $12,000. But, he says, if extra money is raised, it will be used for an aviation scholarship at Lake Superior College.
“This thing has gotten legs beyond the statue,” Keeney said. “For those people who want to perpetuate Joe’s memory and give other people the opportunity to learn to fly, it may help them, we’ll be working on that scholarship as well.”
Cleary says because this is his first public work, his audience is different. People going through the Duluth International Airport will see the bronzed likeness of Joe Gomer. But he says his main audience is the Gomer family and all veterans.
The bronze statue will be unveiled June 20, to help Joe Gomer celebrate his 92nd birthday.
The statue is slated for permanent display inside the Duluth International Airport, once renovation is complete next fall. It will be unveiled June 20 at the Commemorative Air Force Hanger next to Cirrus.
Tax deductible donations can be sent to Northland Veterans Services Committee, PO Box 161277, Duluth, MN 55816.