Disneyland's bronze statues cast at foundry in Prescott
When the Shanghai Disneyland opens at the end of 2015, it will be the sixth Disney theme park in the world.
It will join the ranks of the Disneylands in California, Paris, Tokyo, Hong Kong and the Disneyworld in Florida.
At each of Disney's parks are a number of life-size bronze statues placed in key locations.
Considering Walt Disney attractions drew in more than 134 million attendees in 2014, according to Themed Entertainment Association, these prominently placed statues are probably some of the most recognizable and viewed in the world.
And it just so happens these statues were cast in bronze right here in Prescott.
John and Shannon Skurja, owners of Skurja Art Castings, 1056 Spire Drive in Prescott, have been doing castings for Disney since the early 1990s. John Skurja said they've made at least a dozen of the life-size statues.
"They're the largest bronze statues you'll find at a Disneyland," Skurja said.
The Skurjas have been doing foundry work in Prescott since 1972 and have owned their business since 1986.
They've been responsible for casting several iconic bronze statues in Prescott, including "Cowboy at Rest" on the south side of the Yavapai County Courthouse Plaza, "Early Rodeo" outside Prescott City Hall and the large statue of a Native American woman with a child on her lap outside the main entrance of Prescott Resort.
In 1986, they got to know and work with artist Rick Terry, who sculpted "Early Rodeo." Terry, living in Sedona at the time, met and worked with renowned Disney artist Blaine Gibson, who moved to Sedona after retiring in 1983.
Gibson started out as an animator for Disney in 1939 and went on to make a name for himself in 3-D animation, creating hundreds of sculptures from which figures and bronzes were produced for exhibits at the 1964-65 New York World's Fair and Disney theme parks around the world, according to Disney D23, the official fan club website for The Walt Disney Co. Among Gibson's credits are contributions to such attractions as Great Moments with Mr. Lincoln, Pirates of the Caribbean, Haunted Mansion, and The Enchanted Tiki Room.
Gibson continued to consult on projects for Disney into his retirement, and in 1993 he sculpted a life-size statue of Walt Disney and Mickey Mouse standing hand-in-hand. Through their connection with Terry, the Skurjas were hired to cast the statue and thus began what has now been a nearly 25-year partnership.
Gibson eventually passed on the responsibility of sculpting the Disney statues to Terry, who now lives in Montana.
When Terry gets a call from Disney wanting another statue, he contacts Skurja, who gets the wax castings ready. Terry then drives down to spend a couple of weeks going over the wax works and finishing the product with Skurja and his nine employees.
Large statues such as the ones made for Disney are cast in sections and then welded together.
Skurja said once the pieces are cast, he hires Terry to do all of the assembling.
"He's under Disney's contract for the quality control, so the best way to do the quality control is to do it yourself," Skurja said.
When Terry finishes welding and grinding the assembled statues, Skurja's crew sandblasts and puts a chemical patina (colored finish) on them.
Disney then sends someone out to inspect and sign off on it.
The three statues Skurja Art Castings has made copies of are: Walt Disney holding Mickey Mouse's hand; Walt Disney leaning on a trunk that Mickey is standing on; and Walt Disney's Brother, Roy Disney, sitting on a park bench with Minnie Mouse.
In addition to the statues, Skurja Art Castings has cast the plaques of those who have accepted a Disney Legends Award, a hall of fame program that recognizes individuals who have made an extraordinary and integral contribution to The Walt Disney Company, according to Disney's website. Those who receive the award imprint their hands in cement and that cement is then cast in bronze.
"We've done well more than 100 over the years," Skurja said.
Some of the recipients of the award have been Tim Allen, Robin Williams and Sir Elton John.
Overall, it has been a surreal opportunity to work for Disney, Skurja said.
"We never thought we'd be doing projects for Disney," Skurja said. "Big projects like these are what really boosted our whole operation."
Skurja happens to be an artist himself. Some of his work is displayed at Ian Russell Gallery of Fine Art located on Whiskey Row.
Skurja Art Castings can be reached at 928-778-3651.
Follow Max Efrein on Twitter @mefrein. Reach him at 928-445-3333 ext. 1105, or 928-642-7864.