Wooden in Bronze
First Public Art on Georgia Street Site
By Ric Burrous
Visitors to the Georgia Street plaza that served as the site for the Super Bowl Village this winter will find a new, yet familiar figure to greet them: UCLA basketball coach John Wooden, captured in bronze by sculptor Jeff Rouse as one of the Super Bowl Host Committee’s public art legacy projects.
Rouse is a working artist, but also is a maxillofacial surgeon trained at the IU School of Dentistry on the IUPUI campus. He earned his DDS in 1980 and his master’s in 1983, and also studied sculpture in bronze at the Herron School of Art and Design.
Rouse, who lives in New York City, learned about the project from Christel DeHaan, who owns at least one of the artist’s creations. He explored the opportunity with Mark Miles, chairman of the board of the 2012 Super Bowl Host Committee, and others behind the Super Bowl, and caught their attention.
“Jeffrey impressed us at every turn with his amazing vision and his inspiration for what could be achieved,” Miles noted during the unveiling ceremony on Georgia Street. It didn’t hurt that Rouse “is a Hoosier at heart.”
Casting Wooden in bronze “was a rare privilege for me — to create an image of such an iconic person, one driven by his passion, his intensity and his talent,” Rouse says.
The project was a dream come true, but not without its challenges. “I started work last September 7, and I knew it was going to require a lot of work,” he says. “I’d been working a lot of 11-hour days in the studio, and even then, so much had to go exactly right in order to be done on time.”
Wooden was renowned not only as a coach, but as a teacher and passionate advocate of education. And Rouse sensed that spirit during the creative process. “I can’t tell you how many times I sensed his divine intervention, frankly,” Rouse says with a chuckle. “Every time one little thing had to go right the first time, it did.”
Indeed, the work pace was so frenetic that Rouse himself “never saw the piece assembled together until just two weeks before the unveiling,” the dental graduate says.
Rouse’s goal was to capture the different eras of Wooden’s life and career. The sculpture depicts Wooden in a huddle, on one knee, surrounded by five players, each wearing different sneakers to represent each era.
The first player captures Wooden’s own playing career (circa 1930s) at Martinsville High School and Purdue University, which earned him one of two spots in the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame. The second player represents his early coaching years (South Bend Central High School, then Indiana State). The third and fourth players focus on his first NCAA championship team (the 1964 UCLA Bruins) and the last of his 10 title-winners (the 1974 Bruins). The last player of the group envisions the future.
Rouse is hopeful that the Wooden sculpture — the first of many expected to populate the Georgia Street plaza — will “grab the attention of visitors to this wonderful site” as they walk past.