by Bob Bahr
The full-size bronze statue by Dubois resident John Finley that stands right outside Dennison Lodge had its origins in a board game.
The story goes back to the mid-70s. Finley had the idea to sculpt a chess set with Western figures. He cast it in 1979, and his 7″ knight proved so popular, he made larger versions of it on pedestals. One of them was purchased by the Didiers, the couple who helped move Dennison Lodge from outside of town to its present location in front of Headwaters Art & Conference Center, the headquarters for the SKB workshop. When the lodge was moved, Mrs. Didier asked Finley if he would create a life-size version of the chess player knight to stand outside its doors. She told the website Living Dubois that she wanted a statue that represented the spirit of the town of Dubois.
It was a long time in the making, but “Western Knight” was finally installed just before the 2016 SKB workshop. Though life-size, it seems larger because of its pedestal. Of course, Finley had to make changes to the small chess piece to make it work as a larger sculpture. The technology exists that allows artists to make a sculpture of any size from even the smallest maquette using computer-generated, milled foam. But Finley took a discarded form at the foundry and shaped it with clay to create the sculpture.
Some interesting facts: The saddle is based on that of Finley’s grandfather, a Visalia. It sits on sagebrush to put it at the right height for the sculpture’s composition. The gun is a Colt .45. And Finley was dissatisfied with what the foundry did with the face/head and hat, so he cut it off, took it home, and modified it in clay until…well, until he stopped. “I knew I could spend another month on it, or say that I’m done. You have to let go of it.”
One more interesting fact: the foundry used old playing cards from a casino to use as shims. Ω