As often happens with artistic people, the Cooleys’ inspirations are drawn from real-life experiences, which is why Bradley Sr. and Jr. both enjoy doing bronze sculptures of wildlife they observe while hunting. But their artistic talent to create a physical sculpture of wildlife requires a thorough appreciation and familiarity of the flesh-and-blood subject, and how to “freeze it” in such a pose that it appears totally natural but unique and lifelike, despite being made of bronze.
Close up of the finished product. photo by cooley
Hunters Make The Hunted “Being an avid hunter, the idea to depict a pair of competing bucks that were different from all the paintings and sculptures I’d seen came to me a couple years ago,” Bradley Jr. says. “I had a vivid image of I wanted to create in my mind, but with all the work we were doing, I just filed it away, hoping that some day I’d actually get a chance to sculpture it.
“Then while we were attending a show in Pennsylvania, a gentleman came over to our exhibit, and we got to talking. Turned out that he was Joe Hardy, founder and owner of the 84 Lumber chain. He told us how he was opening this big outdoor store in southwest Pennsylvania and wanted a big sculpture--something along the lines of what the Cabela’s store had, only bigger. So I explained to him about my idea for the big bucks sculpture. He liked it and we cemented the deal. We’ve also provided him with a deer and a bear sculpture for the store, which opened last fall.”
The Cooleys pose with two of their most unbelievable sculptures. photo by cooley
Bucks Bigger Than Life Bradley Jr.’s “big idea” for the Hardy store was truly bigger than life—many times in fact. The piece would entail sculpting bucks that were nearly 20 feet tall and have antlers six feet wide. The whole sculpture would measure 20 ft. high by 10 ft. wide by 28 ft. long. Such an undertaking exceeded anything the Cooleys had done so far, and would require a huge amount of work—a year of three or four people working six days a week on the project.
“The first thing we needed to do was study live big bucks to help us design our sculptures so they’d be accurate in every detail,” Bradley Jr. says. “To accomplish that, we ordered some Team Realtree Monster Buck Series videos and used them as our guide.”
Once they’d decided exactly how they wanted to pose and design the piece, the Cooleys began the painstaking task of sculpting the bucks, piece by piece, in clay molded over wire inner-liners. Due to the project’s huge size, the sculptors did much of their work from hydraulic lifts, with a helper supplying them with the heated clay as they worked. But this was only the beginning.
The painstaking process of completing this mammoth project took many hours of diligent work. photos by cooley
The Finishing Touches Once the clay sculptures were done and the fine details, such as muscle, hair texture, etc. were added, the deer had to be disassembled in pieces in such a way that individual molds could be made of each piece so that each would go back together properly. This involved almost 150 different molds of roughly 2x2 feet being made.
Molds of the clay pieces were created in rubber latex with Plaster of Paris over the rubber to keep it from distorting. Then the molds were carefully split and the clay sculpture pieces removed. The molds were then reassembled and filled with a special wax which, when hardened, was then removed from the molds. Each wax piece was then covered with reinforced ceramic. These new molds were then heated to melt and remove the wax. Then molten bronze was poured into each ceramic mold. Of course, the final steps involved removing the bronze pieces, welding them all back together, and then the painstaking work of finishing the sculpture so no seams are visible but all the intricate details are. Thus, Holding His Own became a reality fully as genuine and inspiring as the flesh-and-blood bucks that challenge our hunting skills.
Transportation was the next major challenge in creating such a huge sculpture as the Cooleys had done--moving it from their studio in Florida to its final destination at Woodlands Outdoor World store near Farmington, PA. This was accomplished by separating the two bucks from their bases, then loading and securing the still-huge sculptures on a special flatbed, tractor-trailer rig. The oversize load was then driven over special permit routing—wide highways with no low overhead obstructions—a distance of more than 900 miles.
“We knew we wouldn’t breath easy until the sculpture arrived, safe and sound, in Pennsylvania, and the unveiling was done,” Bradley Jr. says.
With a year of their lives invested in it, could you blame them? But when visitors to Woodlands Outdoor World pause and stare in awe at the mammoth sculpture, Bronze By Cooley will, like the sculpture they created, become an immortal part of America’s grand outdoor heritage.
Sculptors Bradley Cooley and Bradley Cooley Jr. have createdTwo truly amazing sculptures. The world’s largest whitetails have been completed and are now on display at Woodlands Outdoor World in the mountains of Western Pennsylvania. For more information go to bronzebycooley.com or go to www.woodlandsworld.net.
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