The bronze has the jagged look of layered clay: four 400-pound men ready to surge off the line – fearsome deepset eyes, leather helmets and huge blocks of muscle.
Then there’s the guy in the middle, ready to hike the ball – in a suit and a fedora.
“That’s Paul Brown.”
Nope, not Paul Brown. Phil Desantis is not the first passerby to guess it’s the legendary Cleveland Browns coach. And he says that’s a good thing.
“People will love it if they think that’s Paul Brown."
Actually, the guy in the fedora is an abstract representation of Bert Bell -- the man who married pro and college football by creating the NFL college draft in 1936. That’s one of the 11 moments in pro football history that the Pro Football Hall of Fame has deemed the most significant in the history of the game.
A study in contrasts
Gail Folwell is a Boulder, Colo., artist and athlete who specializes in abstract sculptures of sports figures, moments and meaning. She says she picked this moment because of the contrast she saw.
“It’s not supposed to be literally anything. It’s the idea of the draft. So it can be any team owner, any team manager building his team around him. The whole concept is, he’s part of the team.”
But she acknowledges a personal fondness for the four other guys who surround him, modeled after “Bronco Nagurski, the nastiest 1930s face I could find.”
Add to that the massive hands she sculpted -- clubbed fingers that seem to pulse with strength.
Rodin and the weight of the world
“Rodin always made the hands bigger in “The Burghers of Calais,” and the heads big so they were carrying the weight of the world. Same thing, if you make the hands big, the man will look intimidating. And so they’re a little distorted for a reason. As they are moving forward, their heads and their hands are a little bigger to make it more powerful.”
Not all her Bonco Nagurskis look alike. Folwell works with massive molds of clay and wax into which she pours her bronze -- and says some things simply change over time.
Leaving a mark
“I could see where my jeans hit some of the knees and I kind of like that; its process. I can see where my handprints are. One of the sculptures has one of my dog’s footprints in it because he jumped up while I was climbing on it.”
She hopes she’s not the last to be climbing on it. Come Saturday morning, she wants to see kids along the Hall of Fame parade route jockey for a place on the players' (and Bert Bell’s) back.
“It’s just so fantastic to touch. I make it with my hands. It’s bombproof. You can’t hurt this stuff. So the more people touch it and experience, the more they’re going to like art.”
Folwell's piece, ike the first piece of series that was installed last year, was commissioned by Arts In Stark. Its director, Robb Hankins, says there’s a reason for adults to get up close as well – the abstract images within "The Draft."
“Most people will see it as maybe the safest piece of ‘The Eleven’ because they look like football players and they look like a man in a suit. But when you go up to their bodies you can see the muscles coming right through the uniforms. You can see the bones coming through the back of the football player."
No two alike
“The Draft” is five blocks north of last year’s installation, a soaring mix of glass, aluminum and steel glass called “The Birth of the NFL.”
Next year, the third piece -- a commemoration by David Green of the merger of the AFL and NFL – will be installed a few blocks west.
“It’s two abstracted sculptures, reds and blues and greens with lights and they’re kind of reaching up, looking like maybe torches or claws. And they’re almost connecting, but they haven’t merged yet. And David is so abstract that when he’s here, you say, “OK, which side is the AFL, which is the NFL? The NFL tradition, kind of stodgy. The AFL, ‘Hey baby, we’re hot stuff.’ He won’t tell you. He wants you to figure it out.”
In all, Hankins hopes the 11 works will create a walking tour of Canton’s art -- even for people who aren’t nuts about football. The goal is to have the last piece in place by the 100 birthday of the NFL in 2020.
"The Draft: 1936" will be dedicated on Friday at 4 p.m. at the corner of Cleveland Avenue NW and Fourth Street.
The event is open to the public and will include Hall of Fame President David Baker, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell, and artist Gail Folwell from Boulder, Colo.