By James Stewart
It began years ago as a dream to create a tribute to James Earl Rudder, one of McCulloch County’s most influential citizens who ever called Brady “home”.
From that dream came a series of ideas that eventually blossomed into the concept of a bronze statue to be cast and placed in a prominent location in the county to honor the life and accomplishments of one of our state’s most influential citizens. It began with a pencil sketch which became reality in the miniature clay maquette. From that small clay form came the larger-than-life bronze statue that now is nearly complete.
It was an eight-foot tall statue molded of clay and shaped in every detail to resemble the likeness of James Earl Rudder dressed in his World War II battle fatigues. Over the past several weeks, that clay sculpture has been transformed into a bronze statue that will soon find its place at home on the downtown Brady square.
The statue of James Earl Rudder is in the final stages of completion after a concerted effort to fund the $80,000 project has seen the long overdue honor come to fruition.
James Earl Rudder began his life in Brady as a high school coach. From there, he moved to Stephenville where he took the same job at Tarleton State University. He served his country as a United States Army major general who, as a lieutenant colonel, was the commander of the historic Pointe du Hoc battle which was part of the Invasion of Normandy on D-Day.
He commanded troops across Europe during World War II after which he returned to Brady and became a prominent businessman eventually becoming mayor which he served from 1945-1952.
Called to Austin to revamp the veterans land board, he served as Texas Land Commissioner, followed by being named the 16th president of Texas A&M University and eventually the third president of the Texas A&M University System.
Rudder’s involvement in state politics and his many political connections has been attributed to many decisions that had a direct impact on the state and specifically McCulloch County. One such project that is unofficially connected to Rudder’s time in office is the construction of Brady Lake and the dam that serves as flood control for the area.
Last December, sculptor Troy Kelly delivered the clay statue to Larry Stevens, owner of Stevens Art Foundry located in Bulverde. Using the lost wax process of bronzing, Stevens has been transforming the clay sculpture into more than 400 pounds of detailed bronze.
The process of casting the bronze started with a rubber mold that was made by coating the clay statue in many layers of silicone. Painted on as a liquid, it dried to create a form that captures every detail of the original sculpture.
Next, molten wax is then poured into the rubber mold which creates a wax cast of the statue. When the wax is removed from the mold, the artist hand-finishes it to perfectly match the original.
Gating is the term when wax rods (called gates) are applied to the wax casting to allow the wax to be removed. Funnels (called sprues) are attached to receive the molten bronze.
Investing is the term when the wax casting is coated with several layers of a liquid refractory ceramic which creates a stable mold. That mold is then fired in a kiln which bakes the ceramic and burns out the wax leaving a cavity in its place, thus the term “lost wax”.
In the actual casting process which is done in pieces or sections, the ceramic mold is filled with molten bronze at a temperature of 2,100 degrees Fahrenheit. After the bronze has cooled, the ceramic mold is carefully broken away revealing the sculpture within. From there, a sandblasting machine is used to remove the last traces of the ceramic that adhere to the bronze. The raw casting then has the gates and sprues cut away and incorporated in to the statue as the sections are reassembled.
“Essentially what we do in the casting process is very similar to taking a perfectly good car completely apart, copying it, and then putting it back together,” said Stevens. “It’s a very intricate process that has a lot of steps.”
Those steps are the same steps that have been used to cast bronze for centuries.
The Rudder statue has been cast and is being reassembled after which it will be treated with chemicals and heat to give it the chosen color to match Kelly’s specifications. That process, called patination, is a permanent step that gives the statue it’s finished look.
The dedication of the Rudder statue has unofficially been scheduled for June 6, 2019, the 75th anniversary of the D-Day invasion. Details and plans for that event are being formulated and volunteers and sponsors for that event are also needed.
“We have a lot of planning to get ironed out, but we are going to have a very special event when we dedicate this statue in order to honor General Rudder as we should have done long ago,” said Kyle Moseley, spokesperson for the local museum board. “We are still seeking donations to ensure this project is done to the standards by which we will all be proud so please help us reach our goal.”
Donations cane be mailed to: Heart of Texas Historical Museum; P.O. Box 48, Brady, Texas 76825 or they may also be made online via Paypal. Visit HeartofTexasMuseum.com and click on the Rudder Project link located at the top of the web page.