Sculptor got to heart of founder in creating statue

Release Date: August 17, 2008

LUBBOCK – Eddie Dixon has crafted brave warriors, soldiers and astronauts over his storied career as a sculptor. From the lifeless block of clay, a life emerges, with a story to tell to future generations.

And from the sculptor, a new appreciation for that life and for the experiences of the subject he has crafted.

So when Dixon was asked to sculpt a statue of Wayland Baptist University founder Dr. James Henry Wayland almost a decade ago, his process was no different. But unlike the Buffalo Soldiers and Ghenghis Khan – whose stories are readily found in history books across the world – uncovering the life of Dr. Wayland took a bit more digging.

“I talked with Dub Rushing (late Lubbock businessman), who told me a story about Dr. Wayland saving his life as a child, and with Beulah McInnish (Dr. Wayland’s granddaughter raised by the doctor and his wife) and with others who knew the doctor,” Dixon explained. “There really weren’t a lot of photos from the early years, so I didn’t have a lot of images to work with.”

The process – which culminates in the dedication of the one-and-one-half-times lifesize statue on Thursday, Aug. 21 during Business After Hours – involved some travel and some study on the man and his life on the High Plains of Texas in order for Dixon to truly capture Dr. Wayland.

He had a few parameters to follow, per the requests of then-Wayland president Dr. Wallace Davis, and the late Dr. Bill Hardage, executive vice president, who visited the artist early on.

“They asked me to come up with an idea for the sculpture, and they wanted to depict him during his medical practice, around age 40-50, but there really weren’t many photos,” he said. “We thought about the flat rocks out here, and they wanted to make certain he had his Bible with him.”

Dixon’s initial schematic drawing featured the doctor seated on a “chair” of flat rocks based on inspiration he received after a trip off the Caprock, near Post. Dr. Wayland was reading his Bible, with his medical bag placed just beside him. The university approved it, and Dixon began working on the clay piece. He said the stories he read and heard and the interviews with personal experiences helped him mold the sculpture not only physically but as he would have imagined the doctor emotionally and otherwise.

“You take all these fragments and put them together and come up with a tranquil individual who thought it would be a good thing to do good things for man. Being a healer, that was a natural step. It was easy to capture him from the fragments of his past,” Dixon shared, noting that the doctor seated quietly reading the Bible seemed a natural scenario. “Over the years of doing historical art, it’s not difficult for me to become empathic… I can put myself in their skin or time and put myself in their place. I’ve had to do it so often. You have to capture all that for an individual.”

“By having him reading ‘The Book’, the Bible, it would lend a more tranquil setting. I’m hoping that individuals who come reflect on the piece will feel some of that tranquility and it will translate to them as well.”

After the first sculpture was done, McInnish was allowed to give feedback to the physicality of the piece.

“She thought we should add a little more weight to him,” Dixon laughed. “And his fingers were a little too long, and his ears stuck out a little far from his head. So we made those little changes for the final piece.”

The bronze sculpture model – about 30” tall – was completed after about six months, and Dixon was ready to move on to the larger model. But the university needed to raise the funds for the larger project, expecting to need $150,000 to do the statue and the landscaping around it.

That process took several years, but was finally completed in time to allow Dixon to begin the long process of creating the larger statue, started in the summer of 2007. He said having the smaller piece as a model made the larger one easier, but it still is a new sculpture in terms of work and time. Once he completed the clay work, the mold was created at House Bronze, a foundry in Lubbock owned by Jerry House.

All in all, the sculpture took about ten months to complete, with the sculpting taking the first six months and the mold and bronze casting taking another four. The final piece, which Dixon titled, “The Book,” was completed in the early summer in time to be the kickoff event for the Centennial Celebration for Wayland.

Dixon has made a name for himself with several well known pieces, including the 17-foot buffalo soldier monument at Fort Leavenworth, Kan., that led to a presidential declaration for the National Buffalo Soldier Day on July 25, 1992, and a U.S. Postal Service stamp designed in the statue’s likeness. Most recently, he designed the 15-foot statue of Lubbock native Willie McCool, an astronaut killed in the 2003 explosion of the Space Shuttle Columbia.

His first commissioned piece was of Eugene Bullard, the only Black fighter pilot in World War I, which he completed for the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum.

His art has been featured in various media, including A&E, the Discovery Channel, Texas Country Reporter, Good Morning America, CNN, CBS News, USA Today, Washington Post, the New York Times, Dallas Morning News, Emerge and on covers of International Business and Jet magazines.

His home city of Lubbock declared March 28, 1994, Eddie Dixon Day to note his accomplishments in the world of art, following the Oct. 16, 1993, honor in Washington, D.C. and in New York City.