Originally Published: July 13, 2014 6 a.m.
PRESCOTT VALLEY - For portrait bronze sculptor Tom White, the passion is in the details.
The facial features, attire and pose - which, as he says, lend themselves to "capturing the spirit, character and essence of a subject" - are what's most important in his pieces.
Take White's 9-1/2-foot-tall sculpture of former Baylor University quarterback and current Washington Redskins star signal-caller Robert Griffin III, which he recently completed in the studio on his and wife Marcey's remote property in the gated community of Prescott Ridge north of Mingus Mountain.
"I like the action pieces of people doing their life's work," Tom said from the studio last week. "The sports figures have movement and a life to them."
At 3:15 p.m. Central time on Aug. 31, Tom's likeness of RG3 will be unveiled and placed on permanent display on the south-end plaza outside Baylor's brand-new McLane Football Stadium in Waco, Texas.
Before kickoff of the Bears' 2014 season opener, Tom will stand on a platform with RG3 for the unveiling and gauge fans' impressions.
"That's the most fulfilling thing for Tom," Marcey said. "He gets joy from the reaction."
Griffin III, who was a three-year starting signal-caller for Baylor (2009-11), garnered instant notoriety in 2011 when he won the Heisman Trophy after a stellar senior season with the Bears.
White met the fleet-footed QB with a booming arm only after prominent Baylor alumni/donors John and Pat Wood recommended him for the job, a recommendation the university later approved. (In the spring of 2012, the Woods commissioned White for a life-sized portrait bust of Pat.)
Tom, a west Texas native who has lived near Prescott Valley with Marcey and their family for the past four years, is best known for the religious-themed portrait bronze work he's done for the Billy Graham Library as well as for the Boy Scouts of America and military veterans.
His sculptures depict heroes from all walks of life, including those in the realm of sports, community, faith, family, culture and history.
The RG3 project allowed White to spread his wings, if you will, as an artist, although he had completed some sports-themed bronzes in the past.
Nevertheless, the RG3 sculpture was a higher-profile endeavor.
To get the job, the Whites say they met with Baylor officials in Waco last year to show them Tom's portfolio.
In June 2013, Tom flew from Arizona to Washington, D.C., where he caught up with Griffin III at the Redskins' training camp in Richmond, Virginia.
Tom unpacked myriad props that the university gave him, including a Baylor game jersey, helmet and pants, for Robert to wear during a photo shoot.
Using a camera with a telephoto lens, Tom snapped more than 600 photos of RG3 from every conceivable angle on the field as he ran and threw the football. Tom also took stationary shots of Robert's hands and feet.
White wanted to see which angle best represented Robert in his element.
"You have to sculpt how their muscles move, and the nuances of how their mouths move," Marcey said of the subjects Tom sculpts. "That's where the gift comes through."
Later, Tom and Baylor officials separately picked out what they thought were Robert's three "most powerful" poses.
In the end, Tom, RG3 and Baylor agreed on the same pose for the sculpture, which will not be revealed in this story, per the university's wishes.
For 28 years of his working life, Tom was a master carpenter. Only within the past decade has he completed the transition to a full-time artist.
He's self-taught, although you wouldn't know it. White's skill, talent and work ethic compensates for what he could've learned as an apprentice. (Tom said he gives credit to God for his artistic ability.)
In fact, the prolific White, 52, didn't start sculpting until his early 30s. But he's already making up for lost time. Within a 2-1/2-year period after he arrived in PV in 2010, Tom crafted 13 eight-foot monuments, six life-sized sculptures and about a dozen smaller ones.
Over the past five years, he's made more than 41 public monumental sculptures, along with their maquettes. Fourteen of those sculptures are at least 8 feet tall.
"I was craving to draw and paint," Tom said simply.
Marcey, a former business professional who became her husband's manager and is co-owner of Tom White Studios, Inc., has fully supported Tom's journey as a bronze sculptor.
After learning the sculpting process, Tom went to work in a large garage that he rented off Highway 69 in PV. Once the business became profitable enough within the past year, Tom and Marcey moved into their home/studio in Prescott Ridge.
A mere 60 yards from the house sits Tom's studio, one complete with ceilings high enough to accommodate his bigger statues, such as RG3's. Samples of Tom's clay maquettes and smaller sculptures line the spacious area.
It was here where Tom captured Griffin III's movement and expression in clay by looking at hundreds of photos and films of him from his playing days at Baylor and with the Redskins.
However, perhaps nothing meant more to the process of completing Griffin III's sculpture than what transpired on May 30 during Robert's final private sitting.
Robert and his wife, along with donors/officials from Baylor, traveled to Tom's studio. RG3 and Baylor had to approve the statue before it headed to a local foundry for casting and bronzing. They spent the whole day on the Whites' property with a sculpture that was 90 percent complete.
Tom asked Robert to tell him what he thought of the sculpture and what alterations, if any, he should make to it. Griffin III was pleased, and Tom made only minor modifications.
"The subject has the last say in a sculpture," Tom said. "Ultimately we wanted RG3 and his wife to like it. When Robert saw the 9-1/2-foot clay, he went, 'Wow!' with his eyes wide open."
Currently, the RG3 sculpture is in the wax stage at the foundry. In late August, the Whites will pick it up from the foundry and haul it to Waco in a trailer. The statue will be installed on the 26th, five days before Baylor's season opener.
"I like the way it came out," Tom said. "It's the most comfortable I've felt with any sculpture I've done."
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