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Remembering Payne – an interview with the sculptor of Payne’s statue

Meet Zenos Frudakis, one of America’s premier visual artists. Golfers everywhere marvel at his bronze masterpieces – Payne Stewart, Dinah Shore, Bobby Jones, Arnold Palmer, and many more, some of which grace the clubhouse at Augusta National. But this Philadelphia native and son of a Cretan immigrant has devised bronze statues of baseball players, ordinary steelworkers and captains of industry as well. I caught up with Zenos next to Payne’s statue doing what everyone else does, using it as a meeting place and a shrine of remembrance.

JF: Tell us about how you got commissioned to immortalize Payne.

Zenos: Well the club commissioned me to do the piece after he died. I did it from around three or four snapshots of his famous pose after he made the putt to win the Open here in ’99. Payne’s wife Tracey gave a great deal of input as well. The club wanted a remembrance and Tracey was touched by the thought.

JF: Walk us through the bronzing process. First, how does he stand there in that pose?

Zenos: Well he’s a little over life size…about 6’6″ and the bone structure may be a drop thicker, although he looks life size. There is a stainless steel rod in the leg which goes beneath the ground into a concrete block under the ground. That’s how he stands there.

JF: How is he put together?

Zenos: Well first I make a smaller model as a dry run and for basic outline. Then I make a larger one a rubber mold which is set over clay, then plaster is poured over the clay. The plaster holds the rubber like a mother holds her child so it’s called a mother mold. Then you pull the clay out. Interestingly, I reuse the clay. So the clay for Payne was used in other golf statues. So you might say Payne now is Arnold Palmer and Bobby Jones and even Dinah Shore. As the Buddhists say, Payne has had many lives.

JF: What happens next?

Zenos: Well next the hollow rubber is sort of a negative impression. We put in wax and heat it [called a “lost wax process”] then cover that in ceramic. Then we take the wax out and insert molten bronze. It looks just like making steel and is very exciting. Then we take a hammer and smash the ceramic like breaking eggs. What’s left is the bronze.

JF: Then what finishing touches do you add?

Zenos: Then we shine up the bronze and use a wood tool to shape the eyes and ears and give it depth. We use heated acid to color the bronze, then a thin coat of wax to make it shine…like when a prizefighter oils himself up or a weightlifter. It shows the highlights.

JF: How was it received at the unveiling?

Zenos: I remember Tracey and the children were there when I unveiled it. When he saw it, Payne’s son looked at me and said, “Yeah…that’s my dad.”

Since then, many have made the pilgrimage to stand next to Payne. One was Eric Booker, who met Payne as a rookie Tour player through the PGA Tour’s big brother program. New tour players get an experienced mentor to guide them through the tumultuous life of starting out on tour. Eric was Payne’s little brother.

“He meant the world to me” he recalls. “I first met him when I was eating a sandwich. Suddenly, these huge biceps come from around me and grab the sandwich off my plate. It’s Payne. He stuffs it in his mouth, eats two huge bites and says, with his mouth dripping sandwich pieces, ‘Heymmmff. I’mmmm myour mbig mbrover!!!’ I miss him terribly.

Payne touched so many that the tributes this week were innumerable. Perhaps the greatest testiment to his legacy is the way he overcame adversity while maintaining his individuality. When Payne burst on the seen, his excess of personality was grating to many. Life was rough for a while. but Payne worked hard to smooth his rough edges while still being a unique voice and a positive energy. Over time, he became respected, admired and loved.

Payne Stewart – now forever young in our hearts and at the site of his greatest victory, our national championship at the St. Andrews of America.

Zenos’ work can be seen at www.zenosfrudakis.com.

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