Sculptor honors Hawkeyes through art

BY SETH ROBERTS | JUNE 16, 2011 7:20 AM

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Larry Nowlan has lived with some strange people.

The Philadelphia native has shared space with Nile Kinnick and Phillies broadcaster Harry Kalas, and he’ll soon move in with Dan Gable.

Nowlan is the artist responsible for many of the statues scattered around Iowa City, including the Kinnick monument and the recently announced tribute to Gable that will grace Carver-Hawkeye Arena next spring.

“They kind of feel like roommates to me,” he said and laughed.

Despite his larger-than-life accomplishments, though, the 46-year-old said he doesn’t like to claim any ownership over his finished products.

“What’s great about what I do is that [the statues] stay fresh and alive for the people that view them,” he said. “When I see them again, it’s not like I miss them or I want them — it’s more like, ‘Oh, I remember that. That was an interesting time.”

Around a month ago, Nowlan signed on to create a 7-foot statue of legendary Hawkeye wrestling coach Gable. Officials announced the project on June 4 at a tribute banquet, and Nowlan said he felt the preliminary model was received well.

“[The reaction] was very positive,” he said. “I don’t know that there was a reaction to the sculpture, I think the reaction was all for Coach Gable — and deservedly so. People are very excited about the idea of the statue, and someone told me that Dan’s wife, Kathy, was welling up with tears.”

Nowlan will cast the monument in bronze, and his initial model depicts the coach pumping his fist in reaction to an unseen wrestling match in front of him.

He said it can take about two months to complete the statue, but the official unveiling isn’t scheduled until next April — to coincide with the U.S. Olympic Wrestling trials at Carver-Hawkeye Arena.

The statue will be the latest addition to the UI’s collection of Nowlan’s pieces. The artist created both the 17-foot tall tribute to Kinnick outside the stadium and the 18-foot long relief of the Heisman Trophy-winner bowling over Notre Dame players that sits just inside the main gates. His most recent sculpture for the university was a bronze relief portrait of former swimmer Jack Seig, commissioned for the Campus Recreation & Wellness Center.

Iowa Athletics Director Gary Barta said it’s no coincidence that the university has kept Nowlan as its artist of choice.

“It was a pretty easy decision,” Barta said. “When you walk by Kinnick Stadium and you see the work he did with the Nile Kinnick statue, [and] with the Nile Kinnick relief inside, it was pretty easy for us … we know he does great, great work.”

Though Nowlan is based in a studio in Vermont, he said he’s loved Iowa since he created the Kinnick statue in 2006. Working in Iowa has been “the highlight” of his career in sculpture, he said.

“My motto is you take the good with the bad,” he said. “And anytime I’m working with Iowa, that’s the good.”

Nowlan’s quality of work landed him a spot as one of the original five members of the of the Cornish Colony Artists’ Guild, a collaboration of elite artists that perform at least some portion of their crafts in Windsor, Vt.

Robert Dean Jr., the founder and president of the guild, said he believes the passion and emotion that Nowlan pours into his art is what keeps clients such as the university coming back.

“We place him as probably one of the top sculptors in the United States today,” Dean said. “The number of commissions he has received [and] the feeling that goes behind his work … is not only admirable, but it’s motivating.”

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