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Sculptor Turns Marino Into Art

June 05, 2005|From Associated Press

WESTON, Fla. — With surgical precision, Blair Buswell uses a small curved wire to scrape a crease into Dan Marino's forehead. He carves away a tiny portion of the former Miami Dolphins quarterback's eye socket, then shaves off a thin piece of upper lip.

Marino, sitting nearby, sips a cup of coffee and stares in amazement.

He marvels at how Buswell is transforming what was once a giant lump of brownish clay into a perfect replica of his head, one that will be gazed at for generations to come.

"Pretty cool, huh?" Marino says, turning toward a few onlookers huddled around him at his spectacular eight-bedroom home -- where the game room temporarily was serving as Buswell's studio.

Buswell was barely an average football player; he carried the ball once for two yards in the 1981 season at Brigham Young, where he lined up behind a left-handed quarterback named Steve Young.

Yet Buswell's work is all over the Pro Football Hall of Fame. He's created more than 50 busts of Hall inductees, and these days he's preparing the statues for Marino and Young -- who'll enter football's Canton, Ohio, mecca together this summer.

"I made my toys as a kid out of clay," Buswell said shortly before sitting down with Marino at the record-setting quarterback's home. "So I've been doing this all my life. When I realized in junior high I could make a living out of what I did for fun, that was my quest."

And for more than two decades, the Hall of Fame busts have been among his top priorities.

Buswell, who works out of Pleasant Grove, Utah, and calls himself a "traditional figurative sculptor," oversees what's often a six-month process that ends just days before the actual enshrinement ceremony.

He travels to the Pro Bowl every year to meet with the new Hall inductees. He uses calipers and other precise tools to measure every aspect of their heads, then starts the actual construction process.

Some sculptors only use photos as the basis for their work. Buswell says that's not enough, so he tries to spend time with every subject -- and tries to glean knowledge that eventually will breathe life into the statue.

"I'm not trying just to get things in the right place," Buswell said. "I want it to look like him and feel like him. That's the challenge for me. That's where I excel, is trying to get them to have life -- and I can't do that in pictures. I have to get to know them."

Marino has posed for a statue once before; his bronzed image greets visitors outside Dolphins Stadium, his former home field. He threw for 61,361 yards and 420 touchdowns as the Dolphins' quarterback, an unmatched resume in the NFL.

He's a man with practically everything; there's a putting green in his yard, a huge pool sits in the center of his sprawling property and two mammoth flat-screen televisions hang from the walls of his game room. And although Marino doesn't play, there's a chess set on his coffee table -- the pieces are Dolphins figurines and Marino, in full Miami uniform, is king on the aqua team.

"Now that we're doing things with the bust, I guess now it means the induction's getting close," said Marino, who hasn't started working on his Hall acceptance speech yet. "It'll probably go by pretty fast now."

When Buswell visited, he and his latest subject sat for hours, making sure the measurements were exactly right, deciding things like what hairstyle to use on the statue and whether Marino should be smiling.

Buswell seemed to advise Marino not to have a smile, saying "bronze teeth never look right." Marino, however, said he was planning to have the statue smiling slightly.

"It's nice to be able to go through the process," Marino said. "It's pretty special stuff."

The Hall busts are designed to depict how the player looked during his NFL days. Buswell said turning the clock back a few years on Marino and Young will not be hard, since both really haven't changed much.

Sometimes, though, Buswell -- who's also done statues of Jack Nicklaus for Augusta National Golf Club, Oscar Robertson and a 9-foot Mickey Mantle -- finds himself dealing with inductees who haven't played in 30 years, or are dead.

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