Monumental tributes to pop culture icons

By on July 10, 2014
Green-Giant-Statue

A celebrated six-some from popular culture, some immortalized in bronze, one fixed in fiberglass, remind us that our country is full of wonderful surprises, if you know where to look.

Orville Redenbacher
Central Park Plaza
Valparaiso, Indiana

Orville-2Orville Clarence Redenbacher, a Purdue University alumnus, developed his famous popcorn in Valparaiso, Indiana. It’s no surprise, then, that a bronze likeness popped up in the town’s Central Park Plaza in 2012. Orville (the statue) and gathered dignitaries all wore red bow-ties to the unveiling.

The popcorn king’s approachable likeness sits at the end of a black steel bench. His broad, toothy grin, and casual cross-legged pose invites visitors to take a seat beside him.

Sculptor Lou Cella captured the wavy, center-parted hair and familiar horn-rimmed glasses, as well as the red bow-tie and suspenders that Redenbacher always wore in ads and on the label of his popcorn.

But Cella had other reference material to work from. Redenbacher’s daughter provided clips of TV commercials and Hee Haw segments, including valuable outtakes.

“Because Redenbacher turned his back to the cameras when he made mistakes, I was able to see the back of his head, which isn’t normal when your subject isn’t alive and you’re working from photos,”Cella recalls.

“My most difficult task was matching Redenbacher’s glasses. To get the correct size, I blew up photos and shopped for lookalikes. The sculpture was great fun to work on; he had a terrific face,” says Cella.
The Redenbacher statue has a Twitter account (@orvillestatue), with 700+ followers.

Colonel Sanders/Pete Harman
World’s first Kentucky Fried Chicken franchise
Salt Lake City, Utah

Sanders2You might expect to see a statue of the dapper, white-haired gentleman known as Colonel Sanders in Kentucky. After all, Harland Sanders, famous for his secret fried chicken recipe, made with 11 spices, was a Kentuckian. But it was a chance meeting with Leon W. “Pete” Harman, a Salt Lake City restaurateur, at a 1951 restaurant convention that started a mighty big piece of “finger-lickin’ good” history.

And so “The Gentlemen’s Handshake,” a life-size bronze of the pair, stands outside Harman’s Kentucky Fried Chicken (KFC) in Salt Lake City, Utah, the world’s first KFC franchise. The sculpture depicts the duo’s agreement that closed with a handshake and launched something of a chicken empire.

Sculptor Stan Watts posed the pair in matching outfits —the legendary white suit and black string bow-tie, though Harman wears a single-breasted version. Supported by his trademark cane, Sanders’ free hand rests on Harman’s shoulder.

Harman sat for Watts, but the sculptor never met the already-deceased Sanders. Still, Watts has vivid childhood memories of the larger-than-life man, who often visited Salt Lake City, and rode in its annual Days of ’47 parade.

“Because he looked exactly like his photos, I didn’t think he was real — until he would wave his hand,” Watts recalls.

Harman’s original KFC restaurant building was demolished in 2004 and replaced by a new restaurant/museum. Artifacts include one of Sanders’ suits and an early pressure cooker.

Jolly Green Giant
Green Giant Statue Park
Blue Earth, Minnesota

Green-GiantHo-Ho-Ho! After Ronald McDonald and the Marlboro Man, the Jolly Green Giant is the third-most recognized advertising icon of the 20th century, according to Advertising Age magazine. The Giant, who first appeared in advertising as the face of Minnesota Valley Canning Company in 1928, proved so popular that, in the 1950s, the company renamed itself Green Giant.

In 1978, with I-90 under construction and set to bypass Blue Earth, local radio station owner Paul Hedberg suggested building a monumental, “what-in-the-heck-is that?” Green Giant statue right off the interstate that would lure drivers into town. He raised enough money to erect the statue, just in time for the interstate’s 1979 dedication.

At 55.5 feet tall, the toga-sheathed fiberglass trademark appears to have thrived on vegetables, as he surveys some of America’s richest farmland from atop a lofty pedestal. The Giant attracts 10,000 visitors annually, many garbed in “Giant” costumes. Climb the pedestal’s stairs for a photo-op beneath the statue and take a gander at those size-78 elf boots.

Yoda & Indiana Jones
Imagination Park
San Anselmo, California

Yoda-2It would be hard to find two more beloved movie franchises than Star Wars and Indiana Jones. Two characters from those films are now permanently receiving fan adulation in San Anselmo, California.
The man behind the movies, producer George Lucas, unveiled sculptor Lawrence Noble’s depictions of Yoda, the Jedi master, remembered for his delightfully off-kilter speech pattern, and the heroic Indiana Jones at the opening of Imagination Park, in June 2013. The two icons are positioned near each other, but not together.

Lucas conceived both blockbuster films at his home near San Anselmo and donated the land for the park. Sculptor Lawrence Noble worked for Lucasfilms when The Empire Strikes Back came out in 1980. Enamored by Yoda at the time, he made a small clay sculpture of him, never dreaming that one day he’d be tapped to do a life-size statue.

Indy-statuePosed with hands folded across his gimer stick cane, Yoda gazes toward San Anselmo Town Hall from the top tier of the park’s centerpiece basalt-boulder fountain. Noble says that he hoped to capture “the wise kind of mind that brought us all those ideas about the Force.”

Harrison Ford, as Indiana Jones, is on the tier below, overlooking the park’s lawn.

“To me, Indy is a person who looks at the world in a particular way,” says Noble. “His pose depicts that iconic silhouette of a person who’s ready for whatever life throws at him.”

About Kathleen Landis

Kathleen Landis is a freelance writer based in California.

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