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Newton sculptor gives Shawn Johnson a bronze

Rick Stewart works on the clay model of Shawn Johnson in his Newton studio. A mold of the clay is made which is then used to form a bronze sculpture. The bronze likeness of Shawn Johnson is now on display at the Iowa Hall of Pride in downtown Des Moines, depicted on the balance beam, Johnson’s best event.
Dan Ehl/Special to Daily News
Rick Stewart works on the clay model of Shawn Johnson in his Newton studio. A mold of the clay is made which is then used to form a bronze sculpture. The bronze likeness of Shawn Johnson is now on display at the Iowa Hall of Pride in downtown Des Moines, depicted on the balance beam, Johnson’s best event. Dan Ehl/Special to Daily News

If Rick Stewart seems a little tired these days, there’s a good reason. The Newton sculptor has just put the finishing touches on a life-sized bronze sculpture of Olympic gold medalist Shawn Johnson of West Des Moines. Stewart added the final patina to the sculpture last Friday at the Iowa Hall of Pride, where the sculpture is on display, culminating a 15-month project with the 16-year-old gymnast that took an estimated 2,000 hours of Stewart’s time. “I first met Shawn Johnson about 15 months ago,” Stewart said. Johnson came to Newton four times, “very quietly” for modeling, Stewart said, and he took a series of measurements and photographs from which he built the original clay model. Because Johnson didn’t have a lot of time for modeling, Stewart said he had to rely on photos more than he likes. “I like to have about 80 hours on portraits,” he said. The finished bronze is a hybrid of Shawn Johnson between the ages of 15 and 16. To compensate for the shorter time schedule for completion, Stewart built a turntable for Johnson to stand on, and took photos of her every five degrees of rotation. The clay mold was taken to the In Bronze foundry in Mt. Morris, Ill. There they sped up the process as well, completing the bronze in two weeks, rather than the usual seven or eight. Now the final sculpture is on display at the Iowa Hall of Pride next to the new Wells Fargo Arena in downtown Des Moines. She is depicted on the balance beam, her best event, and the one that earned her the Olympic gold medal. Strangely enough, the Johnson sculpture was not commissioned because she was an Olympic contestant, Stewart said. “The sculpture was originally commissioned because Shawn was a great role model,” he said. “She started at 3 years old and she had such success, and she always had a smile on her face. She had already won at the Pan American Games and she continued to compete and win.” Stewart said he was very impressed with Shawn Johnson’s personality. “She’s a very nice kid. What you see is what you get,” he said. Stewart is no stranger to the Iowa Hall of Pride. With the Johnson sculpture, Stewart now has seven art works at the hall, including a bust of long-time Iowa High School Athletic Director Bernie Saggau, legendary track star Clyde Duncan, and a bas relief panel of a rural schoolhouse scene. He is working on a bronze sculpture of University of Iowa basketball star Chris Street, to be installed some time this fall. John Jennings can be contacted at 792-3121 ext. 425 or via e-mail at jennings@newtondailynews.com.

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