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McKenna To Honor French Connection For Alumni Plaza

07/11/12
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McKenna immortalizing Knute Rockne. Photo credit: jerrymckenna.com

He’s cast Heisman winners, legendary coaches, religious relics, and even an odd Irish athlete, but Jerry McKenna is trying his hand at hockey sculpture for the first time with the newly-announced French Connection statue that will be the jewel of the renamed Alumni Plaza outside First Niagara Center.

Hit the jump for more on Jerry and the rebirth of the plaza!

Paging Mr. McKenna
Jerry McKenna was born and spent his youth in Pennsylvania, where he grew up a fan of the frozen game. “As a boy I was a big hockey fan and for years played in pick-up games on frozen ponds (As far as I know there were no youth leagues back in those days).” Drawing on his time playing the game, he used a memento from the past for assistance in his current task, “As a matter of fact, I saved my old CCM skates and used them for reference while sculpting “The French Connection”.

His calling as an artist began as a teenager in Georgia followed by further schooling in Chicago, San Antonio, and Indiana, where he graduated from Notre Dame with a bachelor in fine arts (painting). After came his military service, but what followed? “After a 27-year career as an Air Force officer, I knew I had to do something with the rest of my life. I always had an interest in figurative sculpture but had never given it a try. When I did, I realized I had the gift. That was over 200 sculptures ago…” Out of all of these statues, has he ever tackled hockey as a subject? “I have done football, baseball, basketball, and even hurling (Ollie Walsh in Kilkenny, Ireland) sculptures but this is the first I’ve done of hockey players.

But how exactly did the Sabres come to hire Mr. McKenna to honor the French Connection? “I was told by the Sabres front office that they had seen my sculptures of Knute Rockne, Lou Holtz, Ara Parseghian, Dan Devine and Frank Leahy at Notre Dame and wanted to go with that “look” for the French Connection sculpture. They contacted me and I flew up to Buffalo for an interview…and was hired.” How far along is the celebrated sculptor with The French Connection? “The sculpture is now at the foundry – 20 minutes from my studio – being cast in bronze.  I spend part of every week at the foundry making sure the work is progressing satisfactorily.” When asked about scale, Jerry said it would be about 7 feet tall, or about life size and a quarter.

What other projects are currently in the works as well? “Presently I am working on two sculptures with about six others in the pipeline.  The two sculptures that are presently in the studio are: Staff Sergeant William H. Pitsenbarger, USAF, a posthumous recipient of the Congressional Medal of Honor in Vietnam…and a life size bronze of Glenda Woods Walking with a Small Child for the Children’s Shelter of San Antonio.”

The French Connection is scheduled for dedication October of this year.

The Plaza Reborn
Where is The French Connection going to make its home? The First Niagara Center plaza, host of playoff and tent parties, renamed the Alumni Plaza. Take it away, Ted:

A small monument park? Can’t go wrong there. Plaques featuring the names of every Sabre and even some fans’ messages? A bit pricey at $100 a pop, but whatever. Still awesome. The only thing I see being a problem is drunken fans, either cavorting or cursing, knocking into the statues during those patented (not really) Parties in the Plaza. I’m sure they’ll have that under control. I can’t wait for the dedication of The French Connection and the birth of the Alumni Plaza. Can fall hurry up and get here already?

For Jerry McKenna’s bio and portfolio, visit the sculptor’s website. For more about the Alumni Plaza, visit Sabres.com’s plaza page.

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