Ari Norris, a 2016 MCC alumnus, was admittedly honored to have been awarded the contract in 2017 for creating the Dr. Doris Rucks sculpture, which was unveiled during ceremonies on Sept. 26 at its permanent location near the Stevenson Center entrance on campus.
For his model, he used a 1995 portrait of Rucks, who taught at MCC for 25 years and devoted more than a half century as a community activist and human rights champion in Muskegon County.
“I felt that a pose from an existing photograph would be a strong way to memorialize her, as it would have been an already familiar image to the audience that knew her,” explained the 23-year-old artist who recalled meeting Rucks, who passed away in 2016 at age 92, as a youngster at various community events.
For Norris, whose own grandmother had passed away around the time he began the project in March 2017, the process was cathartic. “A little of my Grandma Norris, as a grandmaternal figure, went into Dr. Rucks’ sculpture,” he admitted.
Working as a student in famed American sculptor Gary Casteel’s Gettysburg, Pa. studio, Norris created the piece using Sculptex Modeling Clay, which is an oil-based, non-drying alternative to natural clay.
“Never having to be dried or fired, molds are taken directly from the sculpted ‘original’ and the clay is recycled into the next project,” explained Norris, now in his final year in Northern Illinois University’s School of Art and Design Sculpture program. “Specifically, the clay that was used in the Doris Rucks sculpture became the arms, trumpet, and head of my sculpture of Clarence Zylman, Muskegon’s ‘Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy.’” That Norris work will be unveiled at a later date in downtown Muskegon.
“The process produces a permanent sculpture, cast in bronze, which will last for centuries,” said Norris, noting that the casting was completed in Eric Blome’s private studio in Woodstock, IL. The Rucks sculpting took Norris around two months, while the mold making, casting, and clean-up of the bronze required an additional six months.
The sculpture rests atop 1,322 pounds of cloud gray granite extracted from South Dakota. The design was done by Norris and the lettering by Muskegon-based Superior Monument Co., whose consultant Cristine Bouwkamp suggested the color to complement the patina of the bronze.
“I think the most rewarding part of this process was seeing Doris’ son, David Rucks, and her sister, Gladys Hunter, both so overjoyed and emotional during the ceremony and afterward,” concluded Norris. “Seeing the look in their faces, that’s how you know you’ve done it right.”