14 Facts about the Making of 49ers Museum’s Hall of Fame Statues

Monday, August 18, 2014

There are 26 of them, and they stare at you in the face.

The statues venerating 49ers Hall of Famers are certainly a highlight inside Levi’s® Stadium’s 49ers Museum presented by Sony, which is now open to the public.

Here are 14 facts about how they were made, with the help of 49ers marketing coordinator Tori Willis as well as StudioEIS project manager Debra Schwartz and production manager B.J. Ervick.

1. The 49ers did their research.

From museum director Jesse Lovejoy to executive vice president of marketing Ali Towle and the team’s former players, the organization did its due diligence, visiting other NFL museums (including in New England and in Green Bay) as well as non-sports venues throughout the country. Another member of the team, football administration manager Mike Libby, toured Phoenix’s Musical Instrument Museum, for example, where guitars, drums and the like were out in the open and not behind glass. This, in part, inspired the 49ers to keep their artifacts as as accessible as possible. This includes the statues, as they were…

2. … built to be photographed — and touched.

“Whenever we make a sculpture, the first thing we have to determine is whether it’s touchable or not,” Ervick said. “That determines how strong of an armature we make so it withstands interaction.”

3. The statues comprise 50-plus different materials, including pieces of real football equipment.

“Some of the mixed media includes urethane foam and plastic, resin, epoxy, steel armature, actual helmets, actual clothing, actual shoulder pads, fiber glass resin casts,” Ervick said. Willis and the 49ers bought much of the older-model equipment from a Hollywood-based costume-rental company, from Ebay and from team equipment manager Steve Urbaniak. (Urbaniak even helped track down the model number of Bill Walsh’s headset.) Some equipment came from more direct sources: Former team executive John McVay, who was inducted in 2013, sent in his actual tassel loafers, while Nike mailed over the exact model of Jerry Rice’s cleats.

“Everything was as authentic as could be,”  Schwartz said. As Willis added, even the footballs that some player statues are holding, throwing or catching are embossed with the signature of the NFL commissioner for the era they played in.

Of course, incorporating the equipment from a production standpoint was easier said than done. “You can’t just paint the cleats or the shoes, so what we had to do was dress the figure, put the socks on, resin-harden the socks, make sure the shoes were filled with feet, and then we take a mold and a cast,” Ervick said. “So everybody has plastic shoes and socks because they have to be durable and accept the paint. Those parts had more attention paid to them.”

4. They’re silver for a reason.

The team chose a monochromatic look to avoid a mannequin-like figure. “The paint was a metallic color that was in the champagne family, which is the 49ers gold,” Ervick said. “It has a flat varnish on top of it because that what’s the 49ers had in mind.”

5. Before and during the studio’s involvement, great care was given to each statue’s pose.

How do you encapsulate the career of a football player, coach, executive or owner with one moment, or a moment within the larger moment? This was the question that Willis and the 49ers faced. Some answers were easier than others. The state of Rice (class of 2010) for example, shows him mid-celebration, arms raised, during his NFL-record 208th touchdown. Like some of its peers, this pose was based upon a picture.

Other times, the picture needed to be re-created. Another example: Willis and Co. knew they wanted running back Roger Craig (class of 2011) to be high-stepping in his pose, but they also wanted him to be wide-eyed. Without the kind of image that would give them enough detail, they went to Craig’s Bay Area office and asked him flash his browns before a camera. This kind of work continued in New York.

“They and we selected poses we thought would work,” Schwartz said. “Then we did a photo shoot where we tried to re-create these poses, using stand-ins like Keena and other 49ers. Everyone had a selected pose, whether it was an owner, a coach or a player. Then StudioEIS sculpted the portraits from scratch to look just like them from clay.

If a finger needed to be moved on a football; if a knee needed be turned in a different direction; if the pads needed to be pushed down, the 49ers reviewed everything with a very critical eye, just as we wanted them to.”

6. Once production began, the statues were constructed in many stages — at one point, Dwight Clark (class of 2009) was sawed in half.

“The first thing we do is find a body double of the right height and weight to assume the role of the figure,” Ervick said. “When we find this person, we find a life-cast of them, and then we take this life-cast, which is the mold of the person, pour foam into the mold and it creates a positive of the person. Then we have to pose it like a puppet and get it working like the photo was selected. Then we begin sculpting to make the figure stand in the right pose, the right action. After that, we go through approval phases with the 49ers. Then we work from the images to create the actual body type of the athlete. At the same time, we have a portrait sculptor who is working on sculpting the clay portrait. In between there, we also do armature inside the figure; we have to dress the figure; we do resin-hardening to harden the figure; we make molds in a different material of the head, arms, legs and props; we go final finish on everything; and then it’s about the paint.”

7. This was a passion project for StudioEIS, too.

StudioEIS, a Brooklyn, N.Y.-based company run by three Schwartz siblings, has been open since 1977 and done extensive sports-related work. “We were always 49ers fans,” Debra Schwartz said. “We were bigger 49ers fans once the project started with Keena Turner and Guy McIntyre coming out to visit.”

8. The artists had help from 49ers alumni players.

Upon one of his New York visits, McIntyre, an offensive lineman from 1984 to ’93, showed how the StudioEIS folks how to tape bandages around players hands, and he did some of them personally.

9. Fifteen to 18 StudioEIS people finished the statues in an 18-month span.

This group included sculptors, fabricators, designers and a dedicated painter.

10. Each of the statues took 350 man hours to make.

11. Linebacker Dave Wilcox’s was the first statue to be completed.

Wilcox (class of 2009), who played in San Francisco from 1964 to ’74 and approved his cross-legged, standing pose, arrived with his peers covered in plastic in wooden crates labeled with their last names. An 18-wheeler drove them across the country.

12. As much care was given to the statues’ placement.

It’s fitting that Debartolos welcome museum visitors into the hall while the Morabitos, the team’s first owners (class of 2010), are at the other end of the room, just as fans begin their walk through the team’s history. Walsh standing alongside Joe Montana (class of 20009) is the centerpiece of the space.

13. George Seifert’s statue has already been built.

Seifert was elected to the 49ers Hall of Fame in June. The two-time Super Bowl-winning coach will be enshrined on Nov. 1 and honored at halftime of the 49ers-St. Louis Rams game at Levi’s® Stadium on Nov. 2. There is plenty of room for his statue — and others in the upcoming years — to be installed.

14. The daughter of Leo Nomellini (class of 2009) saw her father’s statue on Aug. 1 (and met Jim Harbaugh on her way out). 

Living 49ers alumni and their families will “meet” their statues as  a group on Sept. 13.

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