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Celebrated sculptor looks back with pride, as Bolt pays tribute

Jamaica Gleaner / His work is displayed in private and public collections all over the world, but for internationally renowned sculptor Basil Watson, the eight-foot tall bronze statue of sprint legend Usain Bolt, which is now on show at Jamaica’s National Stadium, where it stands atop a five-foot cement pedestal, is special.

Representing the local athlete cum global sports icon in a format that could withstand the scrutiny of a fickle Jamaican populace, as well as that of sports fanatics the world over, brought with it great responsibility of which he was well aware.

“There was a great responsibility that grew on me as time went on because you know that he’s great to yourself, but to see that he touches everybody is awesome,” Watson told The Gleaner immediately after Sunday’s official unveiling ceremony.

 

GOT EVEN MY TOES RIGHT  

The statue captures a barefooted Bolt in his signature ‘to the world’ stance and the Olympic great couldn’t help but comment on the accuracy of the artwork during his response.

“You really got all my details right, even my toes which are ugly,” Bolt declared.

This, the Trelawny native attributed to the fact that in the early days he ran barefooted and stony surface, for which his toes paid the price.

“It felt good,” the sculptor shared with The Gleaner when he heard Bolt’s public approval of his work.

“Mr Watson, a great statue. I really want to thank you,” the super athlete declared.

Even with his great skill and experience, the responsibility for delivering on this project weighed heavily on Watson. However, after spending some time with Bolt, inspiration came calling.

“You just get a feeling that comes on as you go along, you get a feeling,” Watson explained. “He’s a man of the soil who started running barefooted, bucking his toes and so I wanted to represent somebody humble, grounded in the soil, who has declared to the world that he has arrived.”

However, this realisation did not make his job easier, according to the sculptor.

 

PEOPLE WANTED ‘TO THE WORLD’  

“The key thing was to understand his character, and people wanted ‘to the world’, but how do I make it special? How do I send the message? For instance, the bare feet, the shoes and so on, and so ,it took over a year from conception up to the final thing,” he disclosed.

Watson built a wireframe which formed the foundation for a clay model of the athlete’s likeness. From this he created a rubber mould, reinforced with plaster at his studio in Lawrenceville, Georgia and sent it off to a foundry in the United States, where the hard work continued.

“They first made a wax copy, then a ceramic mould of the wax, into which the bronze was poured. Then that bronze cast was cleaned up, colouring out on it and it was shipped to Jamaica,” he explained.

The celebrated sculptor – who created other tributes to Jamaican sports excellence, including the statues of the legendary Herb McKenley and sprint queen Merlene Ottey at the National Stadium, as well as George Headley at Sabina Park – refused to rate his latest work.

“I try not to rank my work. What I’m all about is the scale on which this work is being appreciated and viewed and the importance and responsibility that was put on me to depict, as you can see, a really lovely and cherished son of the soil.”

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