Out of the Fire, Into USD History
After graduation, Stalheim did what many artists must: He
found a day job and kept on creating. Then he heard a rumor
that led to “Legacy.”
“I went to Vermillion to see an art opening and I met with
Chris [Meyer]. He told me about a call for sculptors,” Stalheim
said. “I saw it as a fun experiment and a way to play with my
creativity. I thought why not give it a shot?”
The College of Fine Arts launched its call for artists
nationally in art journal advertising and also on websites with
international audiences. The application deadline was April 29,
2011, and artists had to submit application portfolios with five
to 15 images of previous works, along with five images of the
proposed sculpture. Thirty-six artists submitted material, and
the Coyote Statue Committee culled those down to the top six
choices. Finalists for the competition had to supply a maquette
of their work. Student and alumni input was used in the final
selection among those six finalists. The entire selection process
was through a blind review, meaning no one knew who the
artists were.
Once he learned of the call, Stalheim buried himself in
coyote anatomy research, printing hundreds of photos, his
hands dirty with clay when he wasn’t studying images, video
and other recreations of the university’s well-known mascot. He
wanted a three-dimensional depiction of a coyote that was filled
with pride, howling into the wind. His vision included one of
the coyote’s forepaws lifted, in what the artist explains is a sign
of the animal’s contentment and trust.
“I went through seven models developing my own aesthetic,”
he said. “I played with the fur, the textures, and by No. 7, I had
what I wanted.”
Stalheim submitted his application and went beyond the
requirements. “I felt that being a sculptor, I wanted to show them
what I was capable of, so I included a model with my proposal,”
he said. Time passed slowly, Stalheim kept working at Target and
he never let doubt creep into his thoughts and get comfortable.
Friends like Sarah Cherrington, Class of 2013, whom Stalheim
bonded with while at USD, helped him stay positive. So did his
family. Eventually, he got a letter saying he’d made the cut—
he was into the mix for the final six—and he felt vindicated.
Students, staff, alumni and others began to vote on the final
choices, while Stalheim waited for that important phone call.
Jon Stalheim said he’ll never forget when Dean of Fine Arts
Larry Schou called his son. “We were damn near dancing in the
streets,” he said. “It was unbelievable. I knew he was going up
against a deep and talented pool of professional artists, and the
wait seemed like it took forever. It was a beautiful thing to be a
part of, that’s for sure.”
The news floored his mother, too. “I just sobbed,” Denise
Nelson said. “He called, and he could hardly get a sentence out,
he was crying, screaming, and we were all just overwhelmed.
Then we were all busy calling each other, calling other family,
just exploding with the relief and the delight.”
Stalheim had claimed the prize, and now he had to finish
the job.
“That intense glee turned into an overwhelming sense of
the reality behind the honor and a sense of intimidation,” he
said. “But my passion kicked back in, and I began to live an
artist’s life, and with Rick’s [Haugen, manager and foundryman
of BronzeAge Art Casting at the Sioux Falls Foundry] help, we
began the multi-faceted process of completing the sculpture.”
That process is known as the lost-wax casting process.
Over the months before its completion, Stalheim, Cherrington
Above, the replica of Stalheim’s statue; right, clay model
of “Legacy”; far right, molten bronze is poured into a
mold at the foundry where “Legacy” was crafted.
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The South Dakotan
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