Arts and Culture
4:32 pm
Fri October 15, 2010

Blind Boone Statue Unveiled

More than 50 people gathered at MU’s Reynolds Alumni Center Monday night to witness the unveiling of a sculpture of Blind Boone to go in the J.W. “Blind” Boone House in downtown Columbia.

Missouri sculptor Harry Weber created the sculpture, which will be displayed in the tribute garden and if the project gets enough funding, a life size version of the sculpture will stand in front of the house on 4th Street.

Harry Weber’s sculpture of J.W. “Blind” Boone was revealed at a reception for the J.W. “Blind” Boone Heritage foundation on October 11, 2010 at the University of Missouri’s Reynolds Alumni Center. The sculpture will be displayed in a tribute garden at Boone’s former home. Photo by Melanie Gibson

Weber says that he has been working on a sculpture of J.W. “Blind” Boone for a few years now. He says he set out to capture the grace he imagined that the musician exhibited through his music. His finished work is an approximately two-foot-tall sculpture that’s cast in bronze and depicts Boone playing at his iconic piano.

“You know, I do a lot of sports and historical figures, but I’ve always loved musicians and I like the idea of movement as my stock and trade and there is nothing that moves quite as gracefully and wonderfully as someone playing music so I was very intrigued about doing this one. Plus the fact that he is an unusual looking character and I just love his face, his attitude, his hand movements.”

The J.W. “Blind” Boone Heritage foundation approached Weber three years ago to create the sculpture. Weber says he went through many extra steps to create the final product.

“This is pretty complex. We had to get a scan of the actual piano and then a reduction of that and then a further mold of that and then we had to actually fabricate sections of it because it would not come up on the scan and then I had to sculpt a figure to go with that so it took three to four more steps than it would normally take.”

Former president of the J.W. “Blind” Boone Heritage Foundation, Greg Olson of Columbia, inspects Harry Weber’s sculpture of Boone at the University of Missouri’s Reynolds Alumni Center on October 11, 2010. Photo by Melanie Gibson

As the cover came off during the unveiling ceremony, many members of the audience oohed and ahhed over the sculpture. Among them was foundation board member Lucille Salerno.

“I am so moved by it, I am moved to tears truthfully.”

Salerno has been involved with the foundation since it began in 1997. She believes it’s important to honor Boone and his contributions to music.

“He really has contributed so much to the development of American music and it happened right here.”

The musician first played in Columbia in 1880 and died there in 1921. He is credited with merging traditional African-American music with European music to create ragtime music, which was popular in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. The foundation hopes to renovate Boone’s home and create an educational center.

Columbia Convention and Visitor Bureau executive director Lorah Steiner says that there will be many educational programs at the center. 

“This is an important project and one of the most exciting things about it is the ethnography program and that program will help teach children how to document their family history and not only their history but their current life through video and through journaling and through recorded interviews.”

Steiner says the Columbia Convention and Visitors Bureau sponsored Weber’s $11,000 sculpture which will be displayed in the Tribute Garden behind the house. There are plans to have a larger than life-size version of the sculpture of Boone in front of the home. Steiner expects this statue to cost $200,000 and she expects the total cost of the project, excluding the life-size sculpture, to be around $500,000.

The foundations treasurer and a fourth-generation descendent of Boone, Barbra Horrel says that the foundation is raising money for the project.

“We’re selling the bricks – the pavers- for the park, the area that the statue will be placed.”

The bricks can be inscribed with the donor’s name or a tribute and will be part of the walkway in the Tribute Garden and outdoor performance area.

The foundation’s president Clyde Ruffin, is the chair of University if Missouri’s Theatre Department and a pastor at Columbia’s Second Ministry Baptist Church. Ruffin says it’s an important project.

“It’s very encouraging to see how far the project has come, considering that we have not had a major donor to this point.”

Ruffin says the exterior renovations to the property are 95% complete. After the exterior is finished the foundation will refurbish the interior of the home, create the Tribute Garden and then construct the larger sculpture of Boone.

The foundation has not set a date of completion for the project, but board members hope to have the project completed in three to four years.

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