Legendary football player Dick Butkus, linebacker for the Chicago Bears from 1965 to 1973, was an
imposing figure at his actual height of 6 feet, 3 inches. Now imagine him 12 feet tall. That’s the transformation the artists at Loveland’s Lundeen Sculpture have created for a commissioned sculpture for the University of Illinois, where Dick played before going pro. As a graduate of the MFA program at Illinois himself, George Lundeen was enthusiastic about the job.
“We’ve been so lucky,” George says during a tour of the downtown Loveland studio. “We’ve gotten to create sculptures of some really great Americans.”
One such sculpture, of Apollo 13 astronaut Jack Swigert, caught the attention of documentary filmmaker Steven C. Barber, who was touring the National Statuary Hall in Washington, DC.
“He’s a friend of Buzz Aldrin,” George says. “And he asked if we would do a statue of all three Apollo 11 astronauts. Well, what an opportunity!”
The next step was securing funding, so again, Steven reached out and found a backer in Quicken Loans’ Rocket Mortgage division.
“Rocket Mortgage!” George says. “It seemed like the perfect partnership.”
The 7-foot-tall sculpture, titled The Eagle has Landed – Apollo XI Astronauts, created by George
and Mark Lundeen and fellow sculptor Joseph Bainer, will be the centerpiece of the new Moon Tree
Garden (a tree planted for each mission to the moon, twelve in all) at the Apollo/Saturn V Visitors
Center at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida. The three statues were unveiled in July to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 moon landing.
George’s team prepares the sculptures for the final stages of the process: applying the
patina and sealing the sculptures from the Florida sun and salt air. He explains that for a work like this, he would normally ask for a year to 1 1/2 years to complete the work.
“We committed to the project over the winter, and the deadline’s the end of June,” he says. “We’ve got a great team, though, and everyone’s great at what they do, and they’ve been willing to work overtime to make it happen.”
The detail is exquisite—every button, every logo on the suits, every smile line on the astronauts’ faces.
“We knew we had to get everything right,” George says. “These are NASA astronauts. Every inch of
their suits, their expressions, has been very well documented.”
George says that the ultimate moment, for him, was when Buzz Aldrin came to Loveland to see the
sculptures in person. The sculptor flips through photos on his phone and leans over.
“Look at this one, of Buzz Aldrin looking up at himself, looking up at the moon.” He smiles. “That was really something.”