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STEPHENVILLE (July 28, 2015) — John Tarleton and his legendary companion, Oscar P., came home Monday night to the university that bears his name, looking younger than ever and larger than life.
Fireworks danced across the sky of Tarleton State University’s Stephenville campus as faculty, staff, students and key community leaders and donors applauded the unveiling of a 10-foot bronze sculpture of its legendary founder—looking 20 years younger than his only known photograph—and his pet duck.
Created by Kenneth Wyatt, a 1946 Tarleton graduate and world-renowned artist called the Norman Rockwell of Western Art, the statue stands in the center of the newly renovated Alumni Island as a symbol of history, tradition and far-reaching vision.
The Alpha Building Corporation, which contracted to renovate the Alumni Island, donated funds for the statue in honor of its long-time employee Richard H. Booher, who retired earlier this year after more than 20 years of service.
An Erath County pioneer and businessman, John Tarleton bequeathed nearly $100,000 following his death in 1895 to establish the university that bears his name. His dream was to create an institution of higher education for students of modest means. Today, the university serves more than 12,000 students, with centers in Fort Worth, Midlothian and Waco as well as a growing global campus that offers more than 20 online programs.
Tarleton President Dr. F. Dominic Dottavio described the unveiling of the sculpture as a moment in history that will be remembered for generations to come.
“No man or woman in Erath County has changed more lives than John Tarleton,” he said. “It is only fitting that the university should honor him for his larger-than-life generosity and vision. This tremendous piece of art will have a lasting impact on Tarleton students and the Stephenville community. Students and visitors will commemorate campus experiences and events in photos with John, and the sculpture will become a meeting place for alumni to share their Tarleton stories with friends and family.”
Creating a true-to-life resemblance of John Tarleton was challenging. The only known photograph of Tarleton, taken when he was in his late 80s, was lacking in detail. It was decided to portray a slightly younger and more vibrant Tarleton.
“I had to be a little creative with the face,” Wyatt explained. “When I got to the point where I thought it looked enough like the picture, I quit. I added a smile, not much, because I believe he took learning seriously.”
Clothes were of particular interest to Wyatt, who in 2011 received an honorary doctorate of humane letters from Tarleton.
“Most of the time, John Tarleton wore overalls, but he did have suits,” he explained. “We put him in his best,” which is the reason for the 1880s-style coat with piping, silk vest and watch chain. Because Tarleton washed and mended his own clothes, Wyatt left his pants uncreased. Tarleton was a businessman and farmer, not so much a rancher, so Wyatt put a gentleman’s bowler in his hand rather than a 10-gallon cowboy hat on his head.
“He was a walker, walking everywhere he went in specially made, square-toed shoes,” Wyatt recalled from his exhaustive research. “One story recounts Tarleton’s refusal of a ride from a man watering his horses. ‘No,’ Tarleton, responded. ‘I’m in a hurry.’ He must have been a speed walker.”
When friends heard that Wyatt had been commissioned to sculpt the bronze of Tarleton, they insisted he include the founder’s legendary companion, Oscar P. The duck serves as one of three anchors that keep the monument steady against Texas winds.
The 10-foot bronze began as a 24-inch model, which was turned into the larger-than-life piece by The Crucible Foundry in Norman, Okla. The foundry poured the 1,078 pounds of bronze in 250- to 300-pound segments and welded them together to create the final monument.
“When the university asked me to do the sculpture, they told me to create a hero,” Wyatt said. “John Tarleton was only 5-feet, 7 at most. Creating him 10-feet tall was monumental—but so very appropriate for the university’s larger-than-life benefactor.”
Tarleton, a member of The Texas A&M University System, provides a student-focused, value-driven educational experience marked by academic innovation and exemplary service, and dedicated to transforming students into tomorrow’s professional leaders. With campuses in Stephenville, Fort Worth, Waco, Midlothian and online, Tarleton engages with its communities to provide real-world learning experiences and to address societal needs while maintaining its core values of integrity, leadership, tradition, civility, excellence and service.
For more information on Tarleton State University, visit www.tarleton.edu.
About Kenneth Wyatt
Known worldwide as the Norman Rockwell of Western Art, Kenneth Wyatt celebrates his Texas and Western heritage and his strong religious convictions through painting and sculpture.
An ordained minister, Wyatt spent 30 years preaching. He graduated from Tarleton State University (then known as Tarleton College) in 1946 and attended McMurry University in Abilene, Texas; Baylor University in Waco, Texas; and the Iliff School of Theology in Denver. He later received honorary doctorates from Tarleton and McMurry.
Former U.S. President George W. Bush and England’s Queen Elizabeth II are among those who own his art. His portrait of major league Hall of Famer Mickey Mantle hangs in the Oklahoma State Capitol.
In addition to a studio in Tulia, Texas, where he and wife, Veda, reside, he maintains galleries in Amarillo, Texas, and in Ruidoso and Red River, New Mexico.