Touching up “Mr. Cub”

(L-R) Corey Kinsman '04, Kyle Chipman '06, patineur Ramsey Truitt and sculptor Lou Cella pose with the Ernie Banks statue in Bradley's Heuser Art Center. See video below.

By Abby Rhodes
November 10, 2011

It was a rainy day in March 2008 – Opening Day at Chicago’s Wrigley Field – when the statue of Cubs legend Ernie Banks was officially installed near the stadium’s main gates. Since then, many rainy days, and three harsh Midwestern winters, have turned the Hall-of-Famer’s “Cubby blue” uniform an oxidized green. 

The statue’s sculptor, Lou Cella, noticed the premature aging on Mr. Cub and turned to Bradley alumnus Kyle Chipman ’06, a foundry artisan who had worked with Cella on the more recently installed tribute to Cubs icon Ron Santo. The Cubs organization was so enamored with Santo’s brilliant blue uniform that it requested Banks’ be made brighter during the restoration process.

The project has brought the Banks statue to the Hilltop this week, where Chipman and patina artisan Ramsey Truitt gave the 7-foot, 400-pound statue a makeover. Inside the Heuser Art Center sculpture studio, where Chipman once studied with Associate Professor of Sculpture Fisher Stolz, the artists removed the original patina, sandblasted the statue’s surface, and reapplied paint and a protective lacquer.

Now Banks’ sleeves and cap shine as bright as the slugger’s real-life smile. Banks played 19 seasons with the Cubs (1953-1971) and was the team’s first black player. His trademark pre-game phrase, “Let’s play two,” is engraved on the statue’s base. 

“It’s a huge high,” said Chipman of the opportunity to work with Cella on another high-profile figure. “But at the end of the day, I always put the same amount of effort, care and craftsmanship into every piece, no matter who it is, because the work reflects on me.” 

The project is the first endeavor for Chipman’s new enterprise, Hot Scotsmen Fine Art Foundry, which he opened just four weeks ago with business partner and fellow Bradley alumnus Corey Kinsman ’04. The two brought the statue to their old stomping grounds as a way to inspire Bradley art students to consider a career in sculpting.

“This is a tremendous opportunity for current students to see that there are very rewarding careers in sculpting,” said Stolz, who invited students to watch Chipman and Truitt at work on Wednesday. “I’ve visited Kyle in his workplaces around the country and he’s a wonderful example of the success that comes from attention to detail and an incredible work ethic.”

That attention to detail is what drives Cella to keep Hot Scotsmen on his speed dial. “I trust their talent, but also appreciate that they make suggestions and don’t just wait for you to tell them what to do. It’s a great working relationship.”

Baseball historians appreciate the scrupulous care Cella took to ensure Banks’ uniform closely mimics the Cubs’ uniform from 1959, the year Banks earned his second consecutive Most Valuable Player award. “When the foundry goes to work on a piece to capture that detail, they have to make sure everything we put in the clay comes out in the bronze.”

Fewer than five years since his graduation from Bradley, Chipman has earned the trust, and business, of one of the nation’s most prolific sculptors and a storied Major League Baseball organization. Such validation for his talent could easily go to his head, if he weren’t so squarely focused on delivering a high-quality product.

“I just want to stay focused and continue to give Lou Cella the excellent work that he requires of us,” Chipman said.

The Banks statue will travel back to Wrigley Field on Friday, where it will be re-installed in brighter fashion to better weather another Chicago winter.