Among the notable spots on the Boise State campus is the Benjamin Victor Gallery and Studio located in Pioneer Hall on Bronco Lane. There, among the modern buildings, parking meters and playing fields, is an open public space where you will find examples of Victor’s work. He keeps the pieces in rotation. You never know what you’ll see — an elk craning its neck towards the Student Union Building, a biblical figure standing contrapposto, or a spectral horse.
Victor, Boise State’s artist in residence and a professor of the practice, is celebrating a few new successes while adding to his growing list of works on campus, in the city, and in communities beyond the Treasure Valley.
He partnered recently with the Boise Department of Parks and Recreation and the Boise Department of Arts and History to create a tribute to one of Idaho’s most iconic figures, the late Gov. Cecil Andrus. Victor installed a bust of Andrus in the newly dedicated Cecil D. Andrus Park (formerly Capitol Park) in downtown Boise on May 9. Victor’s specialized, well-honed portraiture skills and his ability to create a striking piece in a tight time frame made Victor the obvious choice for the job, said Karl LeClair, public art program manager for the City of Boise.
Sculpting an image of a person as well known as Andrus came with challenges, said Victor.
“It’s always a little tricky because you’re sculpting not just the person and their literal appearance, but also trying to capture their spirt, legacy and what they stood for, in the sculpture.”
Working closely with the Andrus family and a selection of photos, Victor created an image of Andrus as he looked in the 1980s-1990s during his gubernatorial years. The Andrus family, said Victor, wanted the sculpture to reflect that particular era in the governor’s life when he was most well-known to the most Idahoans. Victor said he wanted to show the governor with a slight smile, “but also with a bit of pensiveness,” to reflect the weight of the office and Andrus’ long devotion to public service.
Victor soon will turn his attention to creating a life-sized bronze of Andrus for the Boise State campus. Details are still being worked out, Victor said. Private donations will help pay for the sculpture and a public fundraising campaign is planned, he said.
Tributes to Chief Standing Bear, Rosie and other heroines
Victor continues to make his mark in other cities. The Nebraska Commission on Indian Affairs commissioned him to create a monument to Chief Standing Bear in Lincoln, Nebraska. Victor attended the dedication of the monument last October. The 10-foot bronze, which stands at Centennial Mall at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, pays homage to the Ponca Native American chief who argued in an Omaha court in 1879 that native people are “persons within the meaning of the law.” Victor’s research included interviews with Joe Starita who wrote Standing Bear’s biography, “I Am a Man: Chief Standing Bear’s Journey for Justice,” and meetings with tribal members.
Victor portrayed Standing Bear in full tribal regalia, hand outstretched. The sculpture resonates with the quote from Chief Standing Bear, etched into the wall behind the bronze: “This hand is not the color of yours, but if I pierce it, I shall feel pain. If you pierce your hand, you also feel pain. The blood that will flow from mine will be of the same color as yours.”
“The thing I want people to see,” said Victor, “is that hand reaching out, and to think of how relevant that is in our society today.”
A second casting of the piece will go to the Ponca tribe, to be dedicated in August. A third will go to Washington, D.C. and stand in the National Statuary Hall. The Chief Standing Bear statue will be Victor’s third piece in the hall (he already is the youngest living artist to have two pieces in the hall), and his fourth in Washington, D.C. The Smithsonian Air and Space Museum unveiled Victor’s statue of legendary World War II fighter pilot Robert “Bob” Hoover in 2016.
Victor also will do his part to help remember the women of the armed forces. The Howard County Veterans Memorial Corp. in Kokomo, Indiana, has commissioned Victor to create a women’s war monument. The monument will stand in front of the county courthouse in Kokomo. It will feature three life-sized statues, including a “Rosie the Riveter” likeness representing women who worked on the home front during World War II; a modern female soldier with a prosthetic leg, and a likeness modeled after Shawna Rochelle Kimbrelle, the first female African-American fighter pilot in the U.S. Air Force.
A special recognition
Others are taking notice of Victor’s accomplishments. The sculptor will travel to South Carolina this summer to accept the 2018 Alex J. Ettl Grant. The National Sculpture Society awards the grant each year to a sculptor “who has demonstrated a commitment to sculpting and outstanding ability in his or her body of work.”
Fonda Portales, university art curator and collections manager, said Boise State is fortunate to have Victor among a large number of working artists on campus. Victor’s studio lets students — and anyone else in the community — see what a vibrant, professional art practice looks like, and to see what goes into creating a monumental work of sculpture.
“The audience for Victor’s work is a democratic public,” Portales said.”This is not art that’s held in a museum where you have to pay an entrance fee. It’s connected to civic structures. We feel like it’s ours. That’s a special thing about many of Victor’s pieces.”