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UW-Superior artist to create statue of local Tuskegee Airman

Posted on Feb 16, 2012
Sculptor Tim Cleary will commemorate one of the region's most famous fliers.

By Elizabeth Reichert
University Relations student writer

Creating a statue may seem like a daunting process, but Tim Cleary, assistant professor of art at the University of Wisconsin-Superior, has a realistic and specific plan for fashioning a bronze statue of Joe Gomer, a Duluth resident who is one of the famed Tuskegee Airman.   

The Northland Veteran Services Committee in Duluth commissioned Cleary to construct a statue of Gomer to commemorate the service of him and his comrades during World War II. The statue will be displayed at the new Duluth International Airport terminal.  

The Tuskegee Airmen was a group of African American Army Air Force pilots who served during World War II. Although confined to a segregated unit, they overcame discrimination and excelled as fighter pilots. The grateful bomber crews they escorted over Europe nicknamed them "Red Tail Angels" because of the distinctive red tail assemblies that identified their aircraft. Gomer flew on 68 of the unit's 311 combat missions.

Once Cleary's proposal for a statue was selected, he began the process of conceiving its form and creating it. He started by researching and developing an understanding of Joe Gomer.

"It doesn't take long to understand the community image of him," said Cleary, who is chair of the Visual Arts Department. "He cares about others, about education. He's very humble."

Cleary also considered what he wants to convey about the social history surrounding the Tuskegee Airmen. Text on the base of the statue will explain some of that history.

Next, Cleary will begin the physical creation of the sculpture. He first will sculpt a rough version in clay. Then he will make a series of molds from the clay and pour wax into the molds before further refining and adjusting the wax castings.

He will then create more molds of the complicated wax molds and will undertake a process of transferring the wax to a mold that can withstand extreme temperature changes. He'll pour the bronze into this last mold, casting the statue in separate pieces.

Cleary will weld the bronze pieces together and repair any that have been damaged. Finally, he'll disguise the welds and give the statue a patina.

Typically, this process would take six to nine months, but Cleary hopes to have it done by June in time for Gomer's birthday. 

In addition to the mechanics of the statue, Cleary must also think about the aesthetics. He wants to capture both Gomer's personality and the character of all the Tuskegee Airmen.

"I'm interested in contrasting Joe's thoughtful, reflective expression with a disarray of his flight gear, which could be caused by wind or an airplane propeller," Cleary said. He hopes people will look more deeply "by thinking about Joe as a person, his background and his role in history."

"He was an individual among a group of individuals who weren't thought of as full citizens, but they were risking their lives every time they went in those airplanes," Cleary said. "I would hope people would be inspired by them, not just thankful, but inspired by their resolve."

News Contact: Al Miller | 715-394-8260 | amiller{atuws}
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