GR artist allegedly snubbed


November 8, 2017

The recent unveiling of a statue of Kenny Sailors, inventor of basketball’s jump shot, at the Arena-Auditorium in Laramie has a few residents believing the university fouled on a beloved Green River artist.

The statue, located at the Arena-Auditorium’s new entrance, displays a young Sailors making a jump shot at Madison Square Garden in New York, during the 1943 NCAA basketball championships. It was sculpted by Jay Warren, an Oregon-based artist. Warren wasn’t always the first selection for the job, which was originally promised to Green River sculptor Rudy Gunter.

“It will also be announced that a sculpture has been commissioned of Wyoming All-American Kenny Sailors,” a 2014 press release states. “The sculptor for the statue will be Rudy Gunter, a University of Wyoming graduate and a longtime resident of Green River, Wyo. The sculpture project has been led by Cowboy Joe Club member Bruce Pivic of Rock Springs, Wyo. The 22-foot high Sailors’ statue will be incorporated into a dramatic new entrance to the Arena-Auditorium.”

In public Facebook posts, Gunter’s son Terrell Lance has criticized the university for not using Gunter’s version of the statue at the Arena-Auditorium.

“The University of Wyoming and it’s board of trustees hung a great man out to dry and disrespected one of their all time greats, all in the name of politics,” Lance wrote on the social media website.

Lance alleges the university broke a contract with Gunter for the piece and claim they went against Sailors’ wishes for the artwork. Lance also claims Gunter made slightly less than $10,000 off of the work and offered to complete the piece at less than 30 percent of its actual value.

“It’s truly disgraceful (what) his school, the University of Wyoming did, and still hasn’t shown him the same level of loyalty. It’s a shame that Tom Burman and the University of Wyoming board of trustees aren’t willing to show the same level of loyalty to him. They have no honor,” Lance wrote.

In a separate post, Green River resident Mary Shaw, who assisted Gunter with the sculpture, suggests it should be placed at the Half-Acre Recreation and Wellness Center, where Sailors played basketball for the Cowboys.

Lance also stated Gunter’s statue is completed and at a foundry in Lander.

According to UW athletics director Tom Burman, Gunter’s selection initially came from Pivic, owner of Infinity Power and Controls, WyoRadio and Wyo4News, who is also a major donor to the university.

Burman said he and Pivic had discussed a statue for Sailors in 2013 and Pivic recommended Gunter for the job. He said Pivic also agreed to donate the statue to the university.

Burman, who said he was excited about Pivic’s offer, named Gunter as the sculptor in a Jan. 25, 2014, press release announcing the start of the renovation project.

Burman said in his excitement, he failed to check with the university’s policies regarding public art and was contacted by UW’s legal department shortly after the press release was issued.

The controversy over the Kenny Sailors statue has its roots in a previous art controversy at the university. In 2011, an art instillation titled “Carbon Sinks” was placed to show the link between global warming and the pine beetle infestation throughout the Rocky Mountain states.

The work was removed a year sooner than scheduled due to pressure from Wyoming’s energy industry disagreeing with the work’s message. As a result of that controversy, the university created the President’s Public Art Committee, which evaluates and recommends placement of public art, both temporary and permanent, throughout the university.

Burman said the policy required all public art to go through a bid process overseen by the art committee. The process, similar to a request for proposal initiated by a municipal or county government, allows artists the opportunity to submit their proposals to the committee. Burman said Gunter’s proposal was included in the approximately 200 proposals received. He said a subcommittee then selected five finalists, of which Gunter’s proposal wasn’t included, which ultimately led to Warren’s sculpture being selected for the Arena-Auditorium.

According to the art committee’s page on the University of Wyoming’s website, the committee does have a process in place for situations where a donor and artist have already been selected for work to be installed on campus. According to that process, the committee will review the proposal for artwork and supporting information regarding the work, with a representative on hand to answer questions and provide additional information if needed.

After the initial meeting, the committee reviews proposals and discuss followup questions with the artist’s or donor’s representative and review the proposed piece. After review, the committee votes on it and send its recommendation to the university’s President, who then makes the final decision after consulting with the President of the university’s board of trustees.

According to minutes from the Feb. 24, 2014, art committee meeting, Gunter’s proposed statue was reviewed by members of the committee, with members critiquing Gunter’s work during the discussion. Committee member Randy Welniak shared pictures of Gunter’s clay model with the group and said the donor, not identified as Pivic in the minutes, was interested in providing $120,000-$150,000 for placement of the statue. After looking at the photos, committee members Susan Moldenhauer and Ricki Klages expressed concern with the proportions of the statue and length of its extremities. Moldenhauer was the director of the UW Art Museum at the time while Klages is listed as the department head for the university’s art department. Moldenauer also expressed concern that Pivic wasn’t providing adequate funding for the statue and discussion then turned to the recurring issue of how to handle donor art.

The April 1, 2014, committee meeting minutes show the committee returned to the Sailors statue issue, as well as transparency of the committee’s process.

At the meeting, committee chair Chris Boswell told other members the art committee’s process needed to be more transparent and discussed a website which would be used to that effect.

The next order of business involved the Sailors statue, where it was reported Gunter was working on a maquette that would be complete June, 2014.

Moldenhauer told the committee she shared the open bid process with the athletics department, saying it was likely the route they would pursue for the statue. The committee was unaware if Gunter was aware of the possible plan, with concern raised about why a maquette was being cast when it would look the same as the clay model and when the athletics department may use an open bid process.

“Members noted that the PAC is not responsible for explaining this to the artist,” the minutes state.

Burman said he visited Gunter in Green River in 2015, but hasn’t had contact with him or his family since then.

Burman had nothing but respect for the Green River High School Hall of Famer, saying he is a wonderful gentleman and can see why Gunter is revered in Green River. However, Burman said he also has a duty to the university to ensure the best looking artwork is displayed at the Arena-Auditorium.

A Jan. 30, 2016, article about Sailors’ death on KQSW’s website, a station Pivic owns through WyoRadio, alludes to the statue not being selected for placement at the Arena-Auditorium.

According the article, the statue was expected to be unveiled near Sailors’ hometown of Hillsdale, Wyo., in June 2016.

Burman said discussion had taken place to install the statue at a rest area near Pine Bluffs, close to Sailors’ hometown.


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