For 15 months sculptor Bruce Wolfe toiled in his northern California studio to construct “Le Magnifique” – a statue depicting Penguins owner/Hall-of-Famer Mario Lemieux.
Wolfe, whose sculpting career spans 40 years, crafted the 4,700-pound, larger-than-life bronze statue that stands in the plaza outside the Trib Total Media Gate at CONSOL Energy Center. The monument, which was unveiled Wednesday afternoon, is based on a photo that ran in Sports Illustrated, featuring a play in which Lemieux split two defensemen on his way to scoring a goal.
Mario Lemieux Statue – ‘Le Magnifique’
“I think it is (my biggest challenge),” Wolfe said. “I’m an old man and this has really been hard, a tough job.
“It’s got a lot of stainless in it to keep it precariously balanced. There’s a lot of stainless steel that goes all the way down to the ground, welded inside each of those figures.”
Despite the tough work, Wolfe was pleased with the final product.
“Sometimes you don’t know what you have when you have it,” Wolfe said. “In this case, I wasn’t a hockey fan. I’m in my little studio all day and I’m working. I’ve got fingers full of clay. This, for me, was very exciting. This man is a real star and an amazing human being. It was a gift from God. That’s what it was.”
Wolfe, who has sculpted many high profile people, including Margaret Thatcher, Muhammad Ali and Jack London, made five different miniature statue models for the team to observe, including one with Lemieux alone, before the organization decided on the current design.
“I did five different (mini statues) for them, including him as a single individual player out on the ice,” Wolfe said. “He’s got some great moves. I did some others that they looked at. This is the one that everybody liked the best because it was real action.
“It made a doable piece, in a way. It wasn’t just a lone man standing to God thing. This is an action shot, which I thought was kind of a beautiful photograph from Sports Illustrated.”
It was a strenuous undertaking, but the most difficult portion was creating Lemieux’s head. Wolfe made four variations, finally nailing the last try.
“Doing his head was difficult. He is a handsome guy,” Wolfe said. “(It was tough) making the life come out of him.”
While Wolfe has sculpted many prestigious people in his career, he said crafting Lemieux was his most enjoyable effort.
“I didn’t expect it to be so much fun,” Wolfe said. “I had no idea. I’ve been to a few of these. I did Margaret Thatcher. I went to England to do her. I’ve done a lot of notable people. But this is the most fun.”
And the ultimate sign of gratification came from the approval of Lemieux himself.
“He’s such a cool guy, so you want him to be happy with it,” Wolfe said. “That’s the whole deal. He liked it.”
And Lemieux wasn’t the only one. Wolfe added:
“I think his mom liked it, too.”