Larger Than Life: OSU dedicates statue to former president Burns Hargis
Tuesday, December 20, 2022
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V. Burns Hargis will certainly go down in history as one of Oklahoma State University’s visionary leaders.
His legacy can be seen across the campus he transformed through the many buildings constructed during his presidency and more than $2 billion in donor contributions raised.
When Hargis announced his retirement in the fall of 2020, then-Senior Vice President Gary Clark and a committee of regents thought it appropriate to honor him with a statue to be placed across Library Lawn from a statue honoring another one of OSU’s most influential leaders, Henry Bennett.
“I volunteered to call donors who had contributed to Burns’ success and said ‘yes’ when he asked them for help on scholarships or on endowed chairs and professorships,” said Clark, who worked closely with Hargis for 13-plus years. “Frankly, it was a matter of knowing when to stop asking, because everybody was saying ‘yes.’”
In a matter of days, Clark and the OSU Foundation raised the funds for the statue. The names of donors who contributed $25,000 or more are on a plaque placed on the statue’s rose quartz base.
Renowned Oklahoma artist and sculptor Mike Larsen remembers being with his grandkids when Hargis called and asked if he would be interested in taking on the project. He was caught off guard but leapt at the chance to honor Hargis.
Mike and his wife, Martha, invited the Hargises to their studio in Perkins, Oklahoma, to plan the statue. Burns Hargis requested two pieces of jewelry be included: his wedding ring and an OSU pin on his jacket.
Mike Larsen gathered measurements and helped schedule studio photos of Burns Hargis, which would be used as the basis for a small clay model of the statue, aka a maquette.
With those details in mind, he picked up the oil-based clay and began sculpting, starting with the head and basing the facial expression on how Burns Hargis looked at Ann.
The first photo session with Hargis did not provide the movement Mike Larsen was hoping for. At the suggestion of the Hargises, they did another session and were able to pose him in a very Burns-Hargis manner — hands on hips, leaning slightly forward, very business-like — which also provided important movement in his clothes.
“When we changed [the pose], all of a sudden his coat took on character and his pants changed,” Mike Larsen said. “Everything changed. The drapery in his pants became important in the back so it proved to be just what we wanted.”
The new maquette provided action without actual movement and became a piece in the round. Even the Hargises’ signatures became more prominent on the bottom of his coat. And just as Burns Hargis leans forward when he speaks, so does the statue.
Once the maquette was completed, it was sent to The Crucible Foundry in Norman, Oklahoma, to be scanned and scaled to statue size. Then the statue pieces were cut out of foam and sprayed with oil-based clay.
Those clay pieces went back to Mike Larsen’s studio and over the next six weeks, where he added the finishing touches. Then back to The Crucible, where they went for the final time.
“From those big clay pieces, they make the molds for the bronze to be poured into, and then they start assembling it,” Martha Larsen said. “And then Mike had to go down and approve the way it went together.”
On a ladder next to the towering statue, Mike Larsen went over every seam and mark on the statue to ensure it had no imperfections and conveyed the right attitude before it was sandblasted in preparation for the bronze color to be applied.
Once the color was applied to match the Bennett statue, pre-weathering a final coat of wax completed the monument, which stands at 10 feet tall.
At the unveiling ceremony on Sept. 9, Burns Hargis called the statue a “phenomenal honor” and thanked all those involved for their support.
“It’s been a wonderful working relationship,” he said. “Mike, you did a great job. Martha, you did a wonderful job in coordinating everything.”
The Larsens are forever grateful for the trust the Hargises had in them to complete this work of art and the ability to make lifelong friends along the way.
“This is a business, so we always look at it from a business aspect, but when business is accompanied by something as important as this, it’s really cool,” Mike Larsen said.
Photos by: Gary Lawson
Story by: Sydney Trainor | STATE Magazine