Fairfield Ledger

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Neighbors Growing Together | Sep 20, 2018

Gobble statue erected, ready for unveiling

By Nicole Major, Ledger staff writer | Sep 28, 2017

After more than two years filled with extensive planning, hard work and contributions both monetarily and artistically, the wait is finally over, and the completed “Lee T. Gobble II — Mr. Fairfield,” statue is finally erected.

However, the life-sized sculpture will be covered up until 6:30 p.m. Oct. 6, when it will be unveiled during a special celebration outside the Fairfield Arts & Convention Center.

“It’s gone pretty fast, considering,” said Suzan Bates Kessel of the Fairfield Art Association. “The timing was right, and it was fairly quickly after he passed away.”

Gobble died at age 101 in April of 2015.

A few months later, the Fairfield Art Association celebrated its 50-year anniversary with the commission of the bronze sculpture posthumously honoring Gobble, whom Kessel called a “strong community figure.”

Although he didn’t graduate from Parsons College, Gobble was a Parsons trustee and he was beloved by college students through the years.

“The evening of the unveiling will be an event Lee would have liked to attend, with him in the midst of lots going on,” Kessel said, explaining that the FAA’s new exhibit “Iowa Art Quilters” would be opening in the convention center’s Main Gallery, along with the Northside Strippers’ Quilt Show, which will be in the Expo Hall, along with Fairfields’ Oktoberfest.

“We can see Lee smiling, just as he did one of the last times I visited him, and mentioned that I had an idea for a future sculpture,” she said. “We planned the unveiling for that weekend because of the Parsons’ reunion, and we hope that a lot of Parsons alumni will be there for it.”

The project, which took the collaboration of five artists selected by the FAA board, Kessel called an “unusual joint venture.”

Artists included, sculptor Christopher Bennett, who was commissioned to create the bronze “William Henry Coop & Friend,” which sits in the center of central park. He also rendered “Leapfrog,” which sits on the Carnegie Historical Museum lawn; Mark Shafer, a local artist and the director of the Carnegie Historic Museum; local artist Harri Aalto; Fairfield native Ken Rowe, an accomplished sculptor and Werner Elmker, a local photographer who has documented the project from the start.

Each artist accomplished a specific task necessary to complete the bronze sculpture.

Kessel said that during the creation of the statue, that some community members mentioned that the statue wasn’t shaping up to look like the Gobble they remembered.

“They weren’t sure it looked like Lee, but it might have been at a different age than some people remember him,” she said, commenting that photos of Gobble in his late 60s and 70s were used as the basis for the statue.

“A lot of people around, knew him when he was in his 80s and 90s,” she said, explaining that they wanted the likeness to be of him during his heyday when he was very active in the community.

“He would pull a full sized telephone from his pocket and hand the person the phone and say, ‘there’s a call for you,’” she said laughing. “This was before there were cellphones.”

“It’s been a pleasure being a part of this project, and to finally see it come to fruition is amazing,” Bennett said. “I know Werner, Suzan, Mark, Ken, Harri and his assistant Chad Hall feel the same way; It’s been remarkable.”

Bennett also remarked that so many people behind the scenes were also very instrumental in making the project a success.

“The entire staff of the convention center has been so gracious with tools, guidance ... when the doors were locked they let me in; they have just been just great,” Bennett said. “Luckman Hardware always had what I needed or if they didn’t, they knew where I had to go to go to get it. Dave Luckman and Rock Davis are great contributors to this community.”

Kessel said the project could not have been completed without the host of grants and donations that came in throughout the process.

“Funding for this sculpture began with the FAA’s public art savings of $16,000, followed by contributions from many local individuals and businesses, Parsons College alums, grants from Fairfield Cultural Alliance, Greater Jefferson County Foundation, Fairfield Local Option Sales Tax, Cambridge Foundation and the sale of Gobble’s Tie collection,” Kessel said. “This area project was supported in part by the Iowa Arts Council, a division of the Iowa Department of Cultural Affairs, and the National Endowment of the Arts. All donors will be recognized by an appropriate plaque. The only funds left to raise will be for some landscaping around the base next spring.”

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