Sculptor Knew His Creation Could Become Iconic

January 27, 2012 at 6:09 pm 5 comments

Sara Platz Brennan '92 took this photo of Angelo DiMaria's statue shortly after Joe Paterno's death.

The request was unusual. Sculptors don’t often receive commissions for living people, says Angelo DiMaria, who’s made his living as a sculptor for decades. But about in 2001, he was asked to sculpt the likeness of Joe Paterno, who was approaching his 324th victory.

DiMaria, although he lives in Berks County, Pa., had never seen a football game. He’d never been to Penn State. But he quickly realized the project’s importance. “We knew that this was going to become a mecca,” he says. “A tremendous monument. Although Joe Paterno didn’t really want the statue up. He was very humble about it.”

And DiMaria’s statue, located on the east side of Beaver Stadium since November 2001, has become a place for Penn Staters—including Jay Paterno—to gather and remember and mourn. When I drove past just before 8 a.m. Friday, the candles and notes and flowers surrounding the statue were nearly spilling over into Porter Road.

The statue was a surprise for Paterno, meaning he couldn’t pose for DiMaria. And DiMaria sculpts from photographs, anyway. So he went to Beaver Stadium “disguised as a reporter, with a tag around my neck,” he recalls, and was astounded by it. “It was an experience just to be there,” he says. “It looked like a giant spaceship, like in outer space somewhere.”

DiMaria snapped more than 100 photographs, then went back to his studio and worked on an 18-inch model to show the Paterno family for approval. He spent most of his time working to make the face—the portrait, he calls it—exactly right. “It’s something almost mystical when I do a portrait shot of someone,” he says. “It’s not enough just to get the features perfectly. You have to have that extra. I don’t know where that comes from. … You have to capture the spirit of that person.”

His assistants helped to cast the full-size model, which is bronze, 7 feet tall, and weighs more than 900 pounds. (And the statue’s raised finger, DiMaria says, has been misinterpreted; it’s not about Joe Paterno himself: “The pointed finger in the air stands for State College. Penn State. We’re No. 1, not Joe Paterno No. 1. But obviously he is No. 1, of course.”)

In our May/June 2002 issue, we published a photograph of graduates posing with the statue and noted, that it “already is beginning to challenge the Nittany Lion Shrine’s current standing as the best place for a photo op.”  The connection many students and alums feel to the statue—and Paterno—was evident in November, when rumors repeatedly surfaced that the statue would be removed in the wake of the Sandusky scandal and Paterno’s firing. Even repeated denials by president Rodney Erickson couldn’t stop the rumors.

Those rumors distressed DiMaria, too, and he’s pleased that it’s no longer a worry. “They can’t dare take it down now,” he says. “It would be traumatic. There are too many emotions involved.”

DiMaria never met his subject, which is kind of a shame—he grew up in Sicily, and no doubt would have had plenty to talk about with a fellow Italian. “It was just an honor to do the statue,” he says. “I’m happy with that.”

Lori Shontz, senior editor

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5 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Cindy Shingler  |  January 28, 2012 at 1:12 am

    I think we were at the game before the statue was erected – his 324th win. Wow, we were really part of history!

  • 2. R Thomas Berner  |  January 29, 2012 at 6:28 am

    It never entered my mind that the raised index finger was about anyone but the plural we. There is the royal we and the plural we and Joe was always about the plural we.

  • 3. AllPSUfootball  |  February 3, 2012 at 3:51 pm

    I recently read that the uniform numbers on the four players behind Paterno represent John Cappelletti, Adam Taliaferro, and the 1982 and 1986 National Championship teams. Perfect.

  • 4. About the Paterno Statue « The Penn Stater Magazine  |  July 17, 2012 at 9:10 pm

    […] of your views on Paterno and on the Freeh report, I suspect that the statue—which has stood since 2001—is rapidly becoming a safety […]

  • 5. Joe Paterno Statue Removed « The Penn Stater Magazine  |  July 22, 2012 at 12:17 pm

    […] times to count; I’d stopped by when Paterno was dying and it was surrounded by mourners. I’d written about it, and its sculptor. But I’d never really seen […]

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