Working extensively with Linda Prefontaine, Steve’s sister, American sculptor Mike Leckie has created a limited-edition bronze statue of Steve ‘Pre’ Prefontaine. A maquette, a small model of a proposed sculpture, performs a similar function as a sketch to a painting. Historically, a maquette could be formed out of various materials such as wax or terracotta, and sometimes cast into a bronze as its own edition.
More than two years in the making of the Pre Maquette, he stands 24″ tall x 10″ wide x 16″ depth. It is cast in the lost wax method at the Calcagno Studios in Boring, Oregon.
This bronze portrait is of an American icon, an inspiration, depicted turning the last curve of the race, pushing himself through the exhaustion to the finish line.
Pre believed in helping people be the best that they can be by setting the example of hard work, goal setting and commitment to the sport he loved.
Pre’s Large Tribute Begins
The 3-D laser image of the Prefontaine’s Maquette was used to create the structural foundation of the larger-than-life sculpture. It was also used to cut proportional lines of the Maquette into a special styrofoam. This allows for the large sculpture to scale without tremendous weight, so the artist can more easily work on the larger piece.
The maquette was sculpted by hand but also required support from a wire armature. The Maquette, both the armature and clay, was shaped entirely from the artist’s hand. As the surface of the large piece, with all of its details ,was sculpted entirely by hand.
The uncompromising drive of Pre inspired me, drove me forward. In the past two years, as I sculpted this international icon, who in his short life captured the hearts of generations, my admiration for what he accomplished intensified. I feel I captured the essence and spirit of the great Steve Prefontaine.
It is with a legend like “Pre” that we realize that our greatest talents reside in our own spirit of resilience, dedication, and perseverance.
Large Pre’s Infancy
After Mike worked with Form 3D Foundry in Portland to enlarge the maquette into a full sized piece made from styrofoam and a small outer layer of clay, it was time for Pre to spend the next year at Mike Leckie’s studio
Mike’s interest in classical sculpture began when he was very young. He is internationally renowned for sculptures that capture the subtle nuances of his subjects. Remaining true to his love of the old masters, and remaining inside the classical lines, Mike creates sculpture that captures the spirit of his subjects.
In this photo, Mike carries the Pre styrofoam and clay basic model to a padded van for transport. (The styrofoam base weighed only ten pounds!) Thus began the yearlong creation process of Pre’s larger-than-life-sized tribute. As Mike Leckie cradled the tribute, his emotions swelled with joy as if he were actually carrying his child. (and it a way, he was.)
It was a profound moment when I held Pre in my arms. He was so vulnerable and innocent, still unformed and waiting for me to rediscover his energy and fighting spirit. When we finally made it home and Pre was set in my studio, I cried. Joy, relief, and excitement washed over me. For the next two years, I did not leave him until I found the Prefontaine of legend standing beside me.
Pre’s Bronze Maquette
Historically, a maquette can be created from of a variety of materials such as wax, terracotta, stone, or many other mediums. However, Steve Prefontaine’s maquette was sculpted with clay, using a wire armature for support. It then followed the same old-world technique of making a mold to be sent to the foundry to be cast into bronze. The larger than life piece will go through the same process.
After being hand-sculpted, this maquette was cast into bronze and will be made available for purchase. This limited-edition of 225 statues will benefit the artist, Pre’s sister, Linda, and also the Steve Prefontaine Foundation. This 24″ bronze statue weighs 35 pounds and serves as a reminder of one Pre’s most influential and encouraging messages:
“To give anything less than your best, is to sacrifice the gift.”
My brother believed in helping people be the best that they can be by setting the example of hard work, goal setting and commitment to the sport he loved.
From Maquette to a Life-Size Tribute
The Steve Prefontaine maquette was sculpted with clay, using a wire armature. However, enlarged from 24 inches to more than 6-feet tall through the 3-D laser process, most of the fine details from the maquette were lost. What was left was an obscure, clouded-faced large Pre. The artist now builds on this clay-covered styrofoam foundation, adding more clay in places, and removing it in other areas … as the new Pre Tribute begins to emerge.
During this process, Mike Leckie’s attention to detail is highlighted as he forms the muscles, tendons, and skeletal structure on the Pre Tribute. The sculptor has to repeat these skills to the smallest detail using classical figurative methods.
This photo shows the ‘rough draft’ of the larger-than-life Pre Tribute. It’s unfinished, almost crude, pocked surface barely resembles the Pre Tribute that it will become. Mike’s hands will know what to do, this is the kind of challenge he thrives on. The completed Large Pre Bronze will require heavy metal armature to support the tribute’s weight. It is anticipated that to achieve this feat, the armature will also extend nearly 6-feet deep underground.
Structural Beginnings of Pre Tribute
The first steps of a classical figurative sculpture is the skeleton, the bones are a natural armature. Then as the muscles are added, they bring life to the figure.
In this image, the foundational muscles of the arm, neck and chest are seen. Mike worked with concentric contraction on the muscles as it shortens to generate force to move Pre forward. At the same time, he had to sculpt the eccentric contractions movements of Pre’s muscles, sculpting the stretched tension as it decelerates a joint at the end of a movement. Pre was an exceptional runner, and Mike sculpted just enough tension in Pre’s upper body’s isometric movements to mimic the runner’s confidence and exertion.
Even as the sculpture is in its infancy, one can almost observe an intake of air in the rise of Pre’s chest. Later the sculpting of “this breath” can also be seen in his upper belly, a full deep breath as if Pre is pushing through the final curve at Hayward Field, the Bowerman Curve.
It is the nuances of the human figure, whether at rest or in action, that thrill me. To capture a single moment of Pre’s life in an enduring material such as bronze, immortalizes Pre and shares his drive and commitment with the world.
Pre’s Furrowed Brow
Mike Leckie’s desire and personal commitment to sculpt Pre’s Tribute began the week that Pre died. Now, nearly 50-years later, the commitment he made is almost fully realized, and that brings him great satisfaction.
So many images of Pre are when he was young – mostly from the time of a 1970 Sports Illustrated magazine. I wanted to sculpt him as he was entering his prime. The Pre Tribute is not the fresh face of a 17-year-old, but rather an older, maturing 24-year-old Pre. One that holds an ethereal wisdom that now truly belongs to him.
In this photo one can see the concentration in Pre’s furrowed brow. His body is taking shape, resembling the wiry strength of the man himself. The process of sculpting Pre is a labor of love. Mike set aside all other work to focus on Pre’s Tribute. It’s what Pre deserves.
From a Lump of Clay
Prefontaine is known as one of the world’s greatest long-distance runners. His success is attributed to his steadfast determination, training work ethics and his front-running style. When he was off the track, Pre was friendly to everyone, however he was the fiercest of competitors while on it.
Mike chose to place Pre on the track approaching the Bowerman curve, with his focus set on the finish line. As the whole world was under lockdown, in September 2021, Mike continued sculpting the Prefontaine Tribute in clay.
“Pre is just beginning to show his attitude, in his face and in his running form. It was a lot of work to get to this stage – now the real fun begins, I worked on pulling in the deep Prefontaine spirit and his attitude about life. Now the lump of clay begins to become Steve Prefontaine.”
Pre’s Face & Eyes takes Shape
Classical sculpture began with the cultures of Greece and Rome from 500bc to 200ad. It pursued ideals of beauty, harmony, and proportion, honoring the the human form. Classical art has served as a cornerstone of Western civilization, even as ideas of art shift and change over time.
Mike Leckie is one of the few American sculptors who follows the classical figurative traditions of the ancient Romans and Greeks. He works in various mediums including bronze, marble and colored stone.
“His face is taking shape; those furrowed eyebrows are already there. I’ve been working on his eye lids and pupils, they need to be classical, yet modern; young, but driven; intent without being manic. All of those are very fine lines. His collarbones, shoulders, and neck are full of subtle detail, so it makes sense to save the straps of the shirt until last.”
Pre: A Man of the People
Pre was a regular guy and yet strove for the extraordinary. He was loved by people who knew him personally as well as the millions who watched him race.
“He was just like the rest of us, a knucklehead,” he says, chuckling. But he was a friend who did legendary things. “It wasn’t so much about what he did or his times or his place, it was how he went about competing and living his life that inspired people.”
Steve Bence (Author of the book 1972, a story of Pre, UO Track & Nike shoes) quoted by Doug Williams of ESPN.
Mike Leckie also has the sense of camaraderie with Pre since college that has impacted the way he sculpted Pre:
“I have an affinity for Pre, we’re about the same size and I’m six months older. Making his tribute 6′ tall with a 6″ base puts him a head taller than most. I’ve done this, so, as a man of the people, he’s not on a pedestal, but standing at ground level. He won’t get lost in the crowds.”
Prefontaine’s Running Stride
Pre’s stride is examined by young runners to this day as they continue to study his form. Steve’s reputation for how hard he trained and his work ethic in general helped create his unique winning style which made him a superstar of his time.
Steve Prefontaine’s personal bests:
Outdoor 1500 m: 3:38.1 (Helsinki 1973) Mile: 3:54.6 (Eugene 1973) 3000 m: 7:42.6 (Milan 1974) 2-mile: 8:18.29 (Stockholm 1974) 5000 m: 13:21.87 (Helsinki 1974) 10,000 m: 27:43.6 (Eugene 1974) Indoor Mile: 3:58.6 i (College Park 1975) 2-mile: 8:20.4 i (San Diego 1974)
“I saved the back leg until the end, knowing it would be the linchpin. There’s a remarkable balance among the forms in the leg; strong, lithe, powerful all apply to this driving force in the piece.”
Pre’s Balancing Act
The art of the Classical Greeks is characterized by joyous freedom of movement and freedom of expression. It celebrates mankind as an independent entity (atomo).
In general, sculpture historically has been a key indicator of cultural achievements; classical sculpture is renowned for its harmony, balance and sense of proportion. Thus, early development in classical sculpture depicted free-flowing movement in expression and anatomy, while maintaining a strict sense of proportion. This stylization provides for the sculpted design, the illusion of moving through space – something utilized well for Pre’s tribute. The anatomy of Pre is exceptional, keeping true to the movement of the runner.
The balance and reflected line inside the body of the sculpture will help pull it into realism. As your eye moves over the piece it tells your brain – real human.
In fact, two different dogs, at different times, have barked at the sculpture. They recognized it as human and were upset that he wasn’t moving. It’s unnatural to be that still, something’s wrong here!
The Final Cut | Prefontaine
The sculpture is in the hands of mold maker Rich Sears, who is creating the silicon rubber molds for the Pre Tribute. Once this step is complete, liquid wax is poured into the mold. It is left to harden the wax to 1/4″ thick, and the rest of the liquid wax is poured out. Physical properties of bronze do not allow solid casting. As a large-scale sculpture, Pre will be cast in several pieces. So, like the ancient Greeks, Mike Leckie uses the lost-wax method to cast Pre into a freestanding bronze statue. The wax is an exact copy of the original and will go through a “wax cleaning” to fix any imperfections and seam lines.
When we cut the clay sculpture into manageable sized pieces for mold making, the torso was the last piece left on the armature, and you could see the reference to the ancient Greeks. I didn’t know the torso would be so classical when I sculpted it as part of the whole sculpture. A pleasant surprise.
Prefontaine Bronze in Eugene!
It must have been a surprising sight for those traveling south from Portland to Eugene. The Prefontaine Bronze took a truck ride to the amusement and cheers of passing drivers. The Pre tribute will have a month’s stay at the 5th Street Market Alleyway (appropriately next to the Nike Store) during the Butte to Butte race and also the World Athletic Championship. Visit the Bronze while it is available for public viewing from June 30 – July 30.
It was a humbling experience as we drove down the I-5 freeway to cheers of “Go Pre!”. On the drive we stopped at a national park to let Lilly, my dog, stretch her legs. A park ranger stopped us and asked if the bronze was made by the Tom McCall sculpture in Salem. At first I was surprised and then quite pleased that my tribute was immediately recognizable and honored by the connection. I look forward to sharing this joyous sculpture with the public
What happens with the bronze next? A permanent public placement for Pre may take time. This provides the perfect opportunity for the Bronze to follow in Pre’s footsteps to challenge and inspire. Sculptor Mike Leckie is providing his statue to be used to inspire Oregon youth. Learn more at ServeYourSpirit.org to see how you can invite Pre to your school. PREFONTAINE COINS AVAILABLE HERE.