Scott Wise reaches for a lump of sand-colored clay sitting atop a table made of 2-by-4s. The oily clay is hot to the touch, warmed by an industrial lamp a few inches away, so it’s easy to roll between his left thumb and forefinger.
Wise takes a chunk off the block, and, using his index finger like a paintbrush, he applies a stroke of clay to the base of his sculpture. When he pulls away, the surface is rough to the touch, like an impressionist painting. He leaves it that way on purpose.
“It gives more power to the piece if it has some texture to it,” Wise says, scanning his work up and down.
Every decision in his artistic process is calculated. He’s working on a sculpture of one of his heroes, after all.
The Nashville Predators enlisted Wise, a Clarksville-based sculptor and firefighter, to create a life-size statue of legendary Preds goaltender Pekka Rinne. It will stand guard outside Bridgestone Arena, where Rinne played his 15-year NHL career.
Wise is meticulous in his art – that’s part of why the Predators chose him. But in creating Rinne’s statue, Wise wants to be perfect.
“If there’s something not right about it, we’re going to make sure it’s right,” Wise says. “I’m kind of crazy about that stuff. It has to be right.”
Pekka Rinne’s Nashville legacy
Rinne retired from hockey last summer. His contribution on the ice – 15 seasons, 772 games, 414 victories and 19,978 pucks stopped – is only part of his legacy in Nashville.
“We believe that Pekka not only had an on-ice career that is Hall of Fame worthy, but his contributions to this community are immeasurable,” said Bill Wickett, the Predators’ chief marketing officer.
In February, Rinne’s No. 35 became the first retired jersey in Preds history. Moments after the jersey ascended to the rafters, Predators radio broadcaster Pete Weber announced the organization’s plan for the statue.
“I said more than a year ago that I never could have dreamed that my jersey would be retired, and I feel the same way about this being built outside the arena I called home for more than 15 years,” Rinne said.
“If you’re going to look up to somebody, Pekka is the one to choose,” Wise said.
How Pekka Rinne becomes immortalized in bronze
Wise had one hour with Rinne on Feb. 25 to gather all the information he’d need to make a life-size statue. He took hundreds of photos and measurements, moving in circles as Rinne did his best to stand still.
The sculptor sent the images to a company in Portugal that 3D printed the scans onto three-inch sections of Styrofoam. Wise assembled the Styrofoam like a 6-foot-5 puzzle and began covering it with clay in July.
When he’s satisfied with the modeling clay’s appearance, Wise will send the model to a foundry, where it will get coated with wax and rubber to make a mold. The mold will then be filled with bronze, and the statue will be ready for inspection and installation.
The Predators chose Wise because they knew he would “get it right,” Wickett said, but also because he loves the organization. Wise, a season-ticket holder, got his jersey signed after measuring Rinne.
“We liked the idea of a local artist, and we liked the idea – though it wasn’t crucial – that he was a hockey fan,” Wickett said.
Wise is making the statue extra strong in anticipation that fans will want to rub it for good luck or climb on it the next time the Predators make a Stanley Cup run.
“Fans will make it have its own little history,” Wise said.
Keeping the mystery alive
Wise squats down like a baseball catcher to make some touch-ups to the statue’s leg pads.
As he stands, his joints protest.
“Snap, crackle, pop,” he jokes.
Wise has been a sculptor since 1988, when he was a student at Austin Peay. It’s not as easy as it used to be to get down on the cement floor – or to get back up.
As a firefighter, Wise spends 24 hours at the station every third day. Between those shifts, he’s working for up to 12 hours straight on Rinne’s statue in an unmarked Clarksville storage warehouse that belongs to a friend.
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The makeshift studio is “cluttered,” Wise says, with only a few square feet of space cleared out for him to work in. But at least it’s got a security system to keep prying eyes away.
Only a small number of people know where to find the sculpture: Wise, his family, the friend who owns the building, two reporters and one member of the Preds organization who once dropped off a bag of Rinne’s old pads to use as references.
What the statue will look like is a mystery to the general public. Rinne posed for it, so he has an idea of what to expect, but even he won’t see it before its unveiling early next year.
Until then, its appearance is a precious secret, and Wise intends to keep it that way.