Tuesday, January 18, 2011
The idea of commissioning a sculpture of Willie Nelson bounced around like a super ball, full of energy and likely never to land. However, over time, the right pieces began falling into place. Beau Armstrong and Stratus Properties landed the gig to develop Block 21 in the southern hotspot of downtown Austin. The W Hotel Austin would take up residence there along with its high-rise condominiums offering un-obstructive views of beautiful Lady Bird Lake. Then the famed Austin City Limits confirmed that it would be part of the cluster, extending the live music scene from the University of Texas campus and from East Sixth Street across Congress Avenue into what will be a coveted performance venue.
Suddenly the bouncing ball began to get heavy like clay. The idea began to grow some legs, and the legs were of a man named Willie Nelson. The board of Capital Area Statues, Inc. (CAST), the small non-profit that brought Austin the bronze sculptures of Philosophers' Rock and Angelina Eberly, voted unanimously to commission a statue of the musical icon, and zeroed in on Block 21 as the preferable place for the new work to stand.
Historically, CAST commissions the work of sculpture, raises private funds from local residents, private foundations and sometimes corporate interests, and then presents its finished works as gifts to the City of Austin. Then, upon accepting the works of sculpture, the City agrees to maintain the bronze works as part of its collection of art in public places. This is how Willie Nelson will come to stand near the intersection of Lavaca Street on Second Street, the street that now bears the honorary name of Willie Nelson Blvd.
The sculptor Clete Shields molded a fantastic clay resemblance of the performer who played the first gig for Austin City Limits. Recently, a few members of the CAST Board of Directors visited Shields in his Philadelphia studio to help provide guidance on the final changes before the cast is poured. The sculpture stands larger than life and captures the persona of the Willie we all love. It's hard to imagine, but looking into the carved eyes of this statue will cause draw many viewers back to that intimate concert or packed special event when they knew Willie was looking directly at them with a twinkle in his eye that has failed to diminish over time. This statue is for everyone, and its planning, production and placement come together with great forethought and collaboration.
Now it's time for you to make your contribution to help finish this great work of sculpture. All contributions are welcome by CAST, but donors of $10,000 or more also receive a numbered limited edition bronze maquette of Willie Nelson, and their names in bronze that will accompany the larger sculpture in downtown Austin. The W Hotel is now open for business. Residents of the higher condominiums are making themselves at home. KLRU public television prepares for its inaugural concert in its new downtown venue. The plaza of Block 21 is ready for Willie. Help CAST bring him to Austin for everyone to enjoy.