Tracy’s Jaw in Bronze

Posted by on April 23rd, 2010 at 6:34 AM

At 1 p.m. on April 11, a nine-foot, one-ton bronze likeness of Chester Gould’s iconic Dick Tracy was unveiled on the Riverwalk at the Naperville, Illinois. The idea for the sculpture was conceived by Naperville Century Walk Corporation president W. Brand Bobosky and cartoonist Dick Locher, who drew the strip for more than 30 years and is its current writer. Locher, a 40-year resident of Naperville, served as Gould’s assistant for several years, and when he sculpted a Tracy maquette and showed it to Bobosky, the latter thought it would make a beautiful life-size statue, joining the more than 30 public art pieces the Naperville organization has installed in the last 15 years.

Locher’s concept was then turned over to Wisconsin sculptor Don Reed who transformed the maquette into the larger-than-life sculpture. Reed was intrigued with the challenge of capturing the structure of Tracy’s angular face, the flow of his hallmark trench coat and the sense of energy and motion Locher conveys of the detective in the strip. The sculptor, quoted in a press release from Tribune Media Services, the syndicate that distributes Dick Tracy, said that “thinking of the character as fully round, while creating strong lines and paying close attention to detail were essential to accurately depicting Tracy’s likeness.”

Getting Tracy’s cleaver chin right is always a problem even in the character’s usual two dimensions. He looks great in profile, but the jaw from any other angle is problematic. Reed seems to have captured it, though. The pose, Tracy speaking into his two-way wrist radio, is a Locher classic: any time he sketches Tracy for some extra-strip purpose, he shows the detective yammering into his wrist.

Tracy in three dimensions, complete with the swirling yellow trench coat, is eye-catching for more than its larger-than-life dimensions, wrote Hillary Gavan in the Beloit Daily News, Reed’s hometown newspaper. “In line with Tracy’s vintage comic strip origins, the bronze likeness of the 20th century crimestopper is rendered in full color through the use of a chemical technique called ‘patining’ that dates to Renaissance times.”

Gavan goes on, quoting Reed: “To me, Dick Tracy was the ultimate crimestopper who stood up for the public—someone who had a strong sense of values and who projected safety and security,” Reed said. “My goal has been to bring that personality to life and convey a positive impression to viewers.”

A sculptor for more than 30 years, Reed is also a third-generation foundryman who combines state-of-the-art technology with Old World techniques. The accompanying photographs were taken in Reed’s studio before the sculpture was moved to Naperville.

Speaking at the unveiling, Locher said he’d been blessed: he’d worked for a legend and got to work on an icon. Concluding with a quip, he vowed to continue to make crime pay.

Great work, Dick. Take the afternoon off.

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