Troutdale sculptor chosen to create national monument

TROUTDALE, Ore. - A local artist has received quite an honor by being chosen to create a bronze sculpture to commemorate a Pearl Harbor hero.

After a nationwide search, sculptor Rip Caswell of Troutdale was tasked with creating a bronze statue of Fleet Admiral Chester W. Nimitz, who is credited with stopping the advance of the Japanese immediately after the attack on Dec. 7, 1941.

Caswell is hard at work on the sculpture, which will be unveiled next summer where the USS Missouri is berthed at Ford Island in Pearl Harbor.

"They said the thing that impressed them was not only the anatomical accuracies, but that I had the ability to capture the essence, the spirit of the person - especially the eyes," he said. "The eyes are the window to the soul and when they looked into my work, they could feel emotions, they could feel the person and they felt like they knew that person that they were looking at."

After he was commissioned for the work, Caswell didn't start sculpting right away. First, he spent some time learning about Nimitz and the type of person he was.

"My first instinct was here's this guy who was a five-star admiral - probably very egotistical with a boastful persona," he said. "And then as I got to listen and hear about him, I realized that's not the case at all."

"The thing that has impressed me the most is his humility and the fact that he was a genius mind that they are considering to be one of the greatest admirals of history," he added. "He really changed the course of world history but he never took the credit."

A photo of Fleet Admiral Chester W. Nimitz that Rip Caswell is working from.

"He led by empowering people and was just a great role model as a leader," said Caswell. "And even when he went before Congress and they were there to honor him for winning the war, he says 'you did not come here to honor me but all those who served under me.' He constantly did those sorts of things and those are the emotions that I want to bring into this piece."

"There was a photographer who was hired by the government to follow Admiral Nimitz and MacArthur and others and he spent six months right with him," Caswell said. "And he lives in Fredericksburg. I got the opportunity to sit with him, look through his photo albums, hear the stories and learn the background of who this man was. And I asked him, did he ever get rattled? Did you ever see that in all that he was going through? He said 'no, he was just rock solid.' "

Caswell is an established sculptor who has been perfecting his craft for 20 years and you'll find his work throughout our region. We asked him what drives him to keep sculpting and why he has chosen bronze for his pieces.

"It's the tactile feeling of it," he said. "Of taking clay and impressing the feelings and emotions that I have into a piece of art. And having it, every detail, even a fingerprint, transferred into metal is something that is so impervious that will last thousands of years and someday may even be dug up as an artifact."

"It's a bit of immortality, I guess, that excites me about doing work that will be so lasting," he said.

Caswell's Admiral Nimitz statue will be seen by millions who visit Pearl Harbor and what it represents is not lost on Caswell.

"I have a real heart for the mothers and fathers and brothers and sisters that have lost loved ones that have given their lives in service for this country," he said. "They have sacrificed the greatest sacrifice and I think any time that we can pay tribute to these people and their sacrifices is a wonderful thing."

KATU Photojournalist Patricia Norman contributed to this report.