GLEN ROSE - If ever afforded the opportunity to meet Robert Summers, prepare to be in awe of the many stories he has to tell. But that is what happens when you meet a world-renowned artist and sculptor.
Not often are you privileged to hear the tales that go into creating a masterpiece, but, during a recent meeting, Summers recounted the stories of two of his most notable works - the John Wayne Monument at the John Wayne Airport in Orange County, Calif., and the Trail Drive at Pioneer Plaza in downtown Dallas.
John Wayne Monument
“John Wayne has always been a hero of mine,” Summers said.
After Summers found out the star had cancer, he set out to pay a small tribute to the cowboy.
Summers decided to create a bust of the movie star with a stagecoach on the base. Unfortunately, he didn’t get to finish the piece before Wayne died. Although Summers didn’t complete it before Wayne passed, the bust was the catalyst for the commissioned work of Wayne at the airport.
When Summers quoted a price for the job, the company deemed it too expensive. To offset the cost, it was decided that Summers would create 20 small scaled replicas and solicit contributors to contribute to the monument. The replicas sold and the project was completely paid for by contributors.
Creating the statue didn’t go off with a hitch. The company that commissioned Summers for the work did not receive permission from Wayne’s children to use his likeness or image. When Wayne’s sons Michael and Patrick found out, the project came to a halt. However, once the family met with Summers, they became confident that he was the right man for the job and work resumed.
Summers would watch Wayne’s movies to study his movements and mannerism so that he could encapsulate John Wayne perfectly. He also used one of his son’s football coaches as a model, because the coach was built like Wayne. Summers asked him if he would be his model and the coached happily obliged.
Throughout the project, Summers worked closely with Wayne's family. He recalled a time Wayne’s two sons came down to see the progress. At that time, he was working on the head of the statue and everyone was in consensus that the mouth area was not right.
Realizing the error, Summers heated a knife and sliced through the bottom lip of the figure. One of Wayne’s sons wasn’t prepared for this and nearly fainted.
Once the project was completed, Summers held an unveiling in Glen Rose. Prior to the unveiling, the family had a sneak peak of the statue. Summers noticed that Patrick was staring at the statue of his father looking perplexed.
“I thought he was seeing something wrong and there we were three hours from unveiling and I was hoping I could fix whatever it was,” Summers said.
Finally, Summers approached Patrick and asked him if something was wrong. Patrick responded with "No, this is the first time I’ve seen my father since he passed away.”
Only in Texas can a real estate developer dream of placing a Texas cattle drive in the middle of a bustling city. What began as an idea is now one of the largest bronze monuments in North America.
Summers first found out about the project through the Dallas Morning News and while reading about the massive project, he couldn’t believe what it entailed.
“[The paper] started describing it and it said they wanted three horses and riders and 70 longhorns and I said ‘that’s a mistake’,” he recalled. “I read it a little further and it said 70 longhorns again and I thought they made a mistake again. By the third time I thought well maybe they're serious and I’m going to find out about this.”
Sure enough, real estate developer, Trammell Crow was serious about the project and Summers was commissioned for the job.
Prior to the first meeting with the developers, Summers had already envisioned how he wanted the trail to look. He knew that the longhorns would have to be descending down a slope or hill to get the full breadth of 70 longhorns. However, when he met with the developers and architects they hadn’t quite encompassed his vision on the model scale.
“On this desk there was the scaled down model and they had dirt on there, which looked like someone had just taken their hand and created these gentle rises that looked like ocean waves,” he added. “And they had these 70 longhorn on there and they looked like soldiers marching and it was crazy and I thought it was a joke but nobody was laughing.”
The developers asked him a few times what he thought of the model and he finally told them that “it was the most uninteresting thing I have ever seen.” The developers asked Summers what he would change.
Next to the desk was a tub full of sand and he proceeded to pile dirt onto the model much to the chagrin of the others. Once he was finished, the architect came over, measured the dirt and calculated that there was going to be about 30-feet of dirt involved.
“They looked around the room at each other and said ‘do we have that much dirt in Dallas’,” Summers laughed.
The project took a great deal of planning and hard work, because of the enormity of it all. Summers designed ten different longhorns and created the rest by combining the parts of the original ten. That was difficult, because of the anatomical changes the steer would make with the different strides.
Even with the difficulty involved, he managed to document and designate every body part that went into all of the longhorns.
Over time the project came together and it took him a little over three years to complete the monument. It is now one of the most visited landmarks in Dallas.
The fact that Summers has created some of the most recognized pieces of art is astounding. He is a man of abundant of talent and he is also someone full of warmth and character.