As a lifelong “Great Bender” and a child of the 1960s, artist Chet Cale was like most other locals from his generation.
He didn’t know anything about Jack Kilby, who also grew up in Great Bend. Then in November 2000, Cale was approached about the possibility of sculpting a bust of the man who was on the brink of winning the Nobel Prize in Physics for his microchip invention. It was during that moment that Cale’s newfound knowledge gave him a different perspective and appreciation about his hometown. He still marvels today at the thought of sharing his hometown with Kilby.
“It just hit me instantly when I learned about Jack Kilby that this guy went to the same school system as I did, he walked these same streets that I walk, and we probably shared similar experiences growing up in Great Bend,” Cale reflected.
That day of enlightenment changed Cale’s destiny and sent him on an 11-year path that ended when three bronzes, comprising the “The Gift” sculpture, were hoisted into place by a large crane on Tuesday morning and set on their respective pedestals at Jack Kilby Square in downtown Great Bend. After nearly a dozen years of planning, designing, sculpting, waiting, working, struggling and even more waiting, the project had successfully come to an end.
“I went up and down the emotional scale with this project over the years,” reflected Cale, a day after “The Gift” sculpture was in place. “Looking at pictures of me when I met Jack Kilby in 2001, I looked like a child. I had nearly a full head of hair. Those photos really put into perspective how long of a journey this project has been for me.”
The sculpture concept evolved quickly from being a bust with Kilby extending his arm, to a full image of Kilby handing his microchip to a boy. About a year later, Cale added the girl, who points to the stars and readies herself to receive the microchip so that she can share it with the world. Cale’s written interpretation of the sculpture is etched in bronze plaques as part of the Kilby Plaza monument.
“The sculpture changed over time because of the need to tell the story,” explained Cale. “It had to be larger than life (1 ¼ size) because of the scale of the four-story courthouse. And from the very beginning, we wanted it to be accessible, so the plaza has a very inviting attitude.”
Cale first sculpted miniature versions of the figures, then he graduated to one-quarter of the size, and finally, he started work on the actual sculpture two years ago. It was nearly a year ago when he finished his final touches on the sculpture at Art Castings of Colorado, Loveland. The bronzing of the sculpture was completed in November and then the pieces were stored until this month.
Last week, Cale made his final trip to Art Castings where he monitored the patina process of the bronzes. He said he is thrilled with the outcome.
“The patina process is a chemical reaction and that’s what gives the pieces their human feel and human depth,” explained Cale. “Until it gets to this stage and set, you really don’t know exactly what it will look like. You hope that your artist’s eye has visualized and captured the essence of the actual bronze sculpture. I had to trust those experts at the foundry who add patina every day. They did a great job. What I was visualizing did come out and the color is exceptional.”
Cale anxiously awaits Saturday’s Jack Kilby Day events, knowing it’s the grand finale of his odyssey that forever links the artist with the inventor. He especially waits for the moment when special lighting, designed by lighting architect Gary Gordon, will illuminate “The Gift.”
“The lighting is the last dramatic aspect that I am excited to see,” said Cale. “When those lights come up on the sculpture, I’ll know that for all of the work, it was definitely worth the wait.”