Residents caught their first glimpses of the only statue likeness of Willie Nelson at a grand unveiling ceremony Friday.
|Nelson at the unveiling of his statue, April 20, 2012|
The statue was revealed before a crowd of residents, City officials, media and famous musicians on Willie Nelson Boulevard at 4 p.m. Friday.
It stands about 8 feet tall, weighs about a ton and was a gift to the City from Austin’s Capital Area Statues Inc. (CAST), a nonprofit that so far has commissioned three statues and donated them to the City.
Vincent Salas, a member of CAST’s board, said Nelson was chosen as the subject because of his special relationship to Austin. Nelson was in the first production of Austin City Limits and has been considered by many as an Austin son, even though he’s not from the city.
“We felt like he just embodies Austin’s self-defined status as the Live Music Capital of the World,” Salas said. “He also is just one of those guys that has been able to enamor multiple generations – not just one. He’s so iconic to the music industry.”
After struggling to find an artist who could capture Nelson’s warm spirit in cold hard metal, Salas said the board finally selected Clete Shields of Philadelphia.
|The Willie Nelson statue is revealed before a crowd.|
Shields was tasked with expressing in the piece Nelson’s personal way of interacting with his audience. The CAST board wanted Nelson to always have that twinkle in his eye.
Shields did extensive research on his subject before and during the process of creating the likeness, he said.
“You really can’t throw a stick without hitting somebody who’s a fan of his work,” Shields said. “I certainly became more of a fan just studying him and working on this project.”
Nelson, 78, was not directly involved in the statue’s creation, Shields said. The sculptor wanted to keep the real Nelson at a distance so the statue would capture the legend of Nelson – the mind’s-eye version of him – rather than a simple likeness.
Although Nelson never posed for the artist, his pre-recorded voice was often with Shields as he worked.
“Oddly enough, ‘You Were Always on my Mind’ was constantly in my mind,” Shields said.
But Nelson inevitably saw the sculpture. Salas said he was with Willie Nelson and his sister Bobbie Nelson when they saw the statue for the first time.
“She loved it, and so did he,” Salas said. “He was just, in a special way, honored, which is what we wanted to do, and he doesn’t make a big deal about it. It was great to see his face respond to an image in bronze of him.”
In an emailed statement to the City, Nelson expressed appreciation for the statue and the ceremony, which was held on April 20.
|Nelson poses with Austin Mayor Lee Leffingwell.|
“I would like to thank the city of Austin, Texas for this great honor,” Nelson said. “Thank you for the statue. Thank you for the street and thank you for the W Hotel. 4/20 is a good day.”