PALMER — Before Pat Garley put his signature on a piece of Iditarod history, he knew one thing had to be just right.
“This is Alaska — you have to get the dog right because people will tell you about it,” said Garley, a Palmer bronze artist who was commissioned by the Iditarod Trail Committee to create a new winner’s trophy — cast for the first time in Alaska.
The original trophy, which featured Joe Redington Sr. and his lead dog Feets under the Burled Arch in Nome, was conceived by the late artist and photographer Bill Devine, a longtime friend of Redington’s. Devine’s photo was the basis for the piece, which is funded through the Bill Devine Trust.
This year’s Iditarod starts March 6 on Willow Lake.
After Redington’s death in 1999, the Iditarod Trail Committee worked with a foundry in Illinois to come up with a trophy to honor the race founder. The first recipient was 2000 winner Doug Swingley.
“I guess the Iditarod has not been real happy with that trophy,” Garley said Tuesday. “The dog was too big, the light (on Redington’s hat) wasn’t right and it didn’t look that much like Joe.”
Garley said the trail committee contacted him three years ago about casting a new trophy, but a few copyright and ownership hurdles had to be cleared first between the Iditarod the foundry.
Garley, who works out of his Arctic Fires foundry, said he sought input on the 97-pound trophy from those who knew “the father of the Iditarod” best.
“The bronze alone weighs 91 pounds,” he said of the piece, which sits on a walnut base. “I had a lot of input from family and people that knew Joe.”
The redesigned trophy features a smaller Feets, a closer resemblance to Joe and a more personal touch with a Redington signature from one of his race bibs. Garley also made the burl a bit less symmetrical and made the headlamp — which contains a working light — more realistic.
Garley created clay and wax sculptures of the design before using the “lost wax” method to cast the bronze. The sculpture was created in pieces, then welded together and sandblasted. Since the raw pieces of bronze are more tan in color, Garley said the bronze “patina” was created by covering the piece in sulfurated potash, which turns black and is later buffed off.
Garley, who received Governor’s Award from the Alaska State Council on the Arts and the Alaska Humanities Forum in January, said he was honored to be able to create the new trophy.
“It has been an honor to do this, to be part of the Iditarod in some way,” he said.
And his work with the Redington legacy isn’t finished. A visit to Garley’s shop Tuesday revealed a dog sled he had bought and the beginnings of a life-sized statue of Redington. Plans call for the scene of Redington, atop the sled hitched to seven dogs, to be installed later this year at the new Redington Junior-Senior High School in Knik.
“I had (Iditarod Hall of Fame member) Dan Seavey stand on the sled and took some photos to get an idea of the pose,” Garley said. “I am looking forward to working on this one.”
Contact reporter Steven Merritt at 352-2269 or firstname.lastname@example.org