Renowned hat maker John B. Stetson, the namesake of Stetson University, has a permanent presence on the university’s campus thanks to a donor-funded bronze sculpture bearing his likeness.
Installed in Palm Court in August, the larger-than-life statue and bench weighs approximately 1,600 pounds and features a relaxed Stetson sitting on the bench while tipping one of his famous hats and beckoning folks to grab a seat or strike a selfie pose.
The bronze sculpture has been on the wish list of Stetson President Wendy B. Libby, PhD, ever since she became the university’s ninth president 10 years ago. She is thankful for former university trustee and double Hatter Troy Templeton and his wife Sissy Templeton for making the statue a reality with their generous donation. The couple have been university benefactors for the past 30 years.
The community was invited to get up-close and personal with Stetson’s statue during its dedication and ribbon-cutting ceremony on Friday, Oct. 18, at 5:30 p.m.
Stetson, who invented the cowboy hat and founded his hat company in 1865, was a DeLand University donor and elected to the university’s Board of Trustees in 1887. In 1889, he became the board’s president and during that same year, the college renamed the university in his honor and appreciation of his generosity and support.
Sculptor Erik Blome created the iconic bronze Stetson sculpture. He has created sculptures of historic figures throughout the United States, including Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. in Milwaukee, Wisconsin; Rosa Parks seated on a bus in Dallas, Texas; Duke Ellington in DeKalb, Illinois; Jack Benny in Waukegan, Illinois; Wayne Gretzky in Los Angeles, California; and Legends Row, which features Toronto’s hockey stars in front of the Scotiabank Arena in Toronto.
Blome’s sculpture process included studying Stetson’s background and legacy, viewing his bust at the duPont-Ball Library on campus and borrowing a cowboy hat and spats. Blome drew a six-foot model who was around Stetson’s height sitting on a bench in his studio and transformed the drawings into a maquette or 3-D clay model. The final step was sculpting Stetson seated on the bronze bench, so the figure would fit perfectly in place when cast in bronze. He sculpted clothing from the 1890s on top of the clay figure and created and assembled the bench after casting it with bronze pieces. The sculpture took about a year to complete.
Blome came up with the inviting idea of Stetson tipping his hat, which is a wonderful way for him to greet guests on the bench.
“The life-size sculpture that I made of John B. Stetson is a conversation starter and stands out,” said Blome. “I think the bench provides a fun and engaging virtual space. I worked really hard on capturing his warmth and smile.”
“The Stetson statue’s welcoming and come-join-us gesture is very special and I think the sculpture really speaks to who this university is all about,” said Libby.