MACON – An 1,800-pound bronze bear statue, a gift to Mercer University from retired businessman Irwin Belk, was installed today near the main gate to Five Star Stadium.
Belk, former president of Belk department stores from Charlotte, North Carolina, has provided millions of dollars in gifts for academic and athletic facilities, statues and other projects on college and university campuses, primarily in the Carolinas.
Gregory Johnson, of Cumming, Georgia, has been commissioned to create seven sculptures for Belk, including Mercer's newest bear, which is more than 10 feet long from its nose to its feet.
“Thanks to the generosity of Irwin Belk and the craftsmanship of Gregory Johnson, this statue is going to completely change the entrance to Five Star Stadium on game day,” said Brian Gerrity, senior associate director of athletics and executive director of the Mercer Athletic Foundation. “It will be a focal point for pictures and a place to rally around.”
The statue was sculpted from 500 pounds of clay over approximately 150 hours by Johnson before it was sent to Eagle Bronze foundry in Wyoming, which made a mold and cast it in bronze.
“What I attempt to do when I sculpt is make the sculptures so lifelike that they look like they can get down off of their settings,” said Johnson, who has created more than 250 major pieces of sculpture. “This bear will give strength to our team and make the opponent tremble with fear.”
The lifelike grizzly, which is portrayed resting its left front paw on a raised rock and letting out a fierce roar, will join Mercer's five-year-old bronze statue of a fully upright bear that stands in Cruz Plaza as a popular gathering place on football game days, admissions tours and other activities on campus.