Jocelyn Russell is in Norman to see a man about a horse.
The San Juan Island, Washington sculptor is working with Mark Palmerton at The Crucible art foundry, 110 E. Tonhawa St. on a special equine project. Russell designed a statue of legendary racehorse Secretariat with jockey Ronnie Turcotte astride. Originally made as a table top-size sculpture, she’s now having her creation cast in bronze at life-size and a half. The completed monument will be eight-and-a-half-feet tall.
“I was commissioned by the Triangle Foundation of Lexington, Kentucky to make a Secretariat monument,” Russell said. “They will be installing it at a roundabout on the Old Frankfort Pike.”
That location is a scenic drive past large horse farms, historic stone fences and manicured meadows.
“It’s a large project and I accepted it on a pretty tight timeline,” Russell said. “I immediately started doing internet research, then began a miniature sculpture in wire and clay after deciding on a pose. The jockey is still alive and I went to New Brunswick, Canada to interview him.”
Russell sent video of her proposed Secretariat to the folks at Triangle Foundation and they were on board. Then she flew to Kentucky to meet with them.
“I wanted to make sure we were all on the same page and that they were confident with me,” she said. “We started to work on a contract after nailing down the pose and jockey image which would depict Secretariat’s race at the Kentucky Derby.”
Secretariat was a reddish brown American Thoroughbred horse nicknamed “Big Red” who won the 1973 Kentucky Derby in record time (1:59 2/5). He was also the first Triple Crown Winner in 25 years. Secretariat’s storied racing career is worthy of being memorialized in monumental bronze. In Russell’s opinion, The Crucible crew are just the ones to make it happen.
“I love these guys,” she said. “I first worked with them on the Audubon elephant project.”
That project included 15 life-size bronze sculptures of elephants Russell created. They were made over a two-year period at The Crucible and installed in 2017 at the Audubon Zoo in New Orleans, Louisiana.
“I’m pretty faithful to my foundries,” she said. “I have ones in Utah and Colorado. When I got the Audubon project I was told by the one in Colorado to check out The Crucible. It was kind of terrifying because a relationship with a foundry is kind of like a marriage. The Audubon contract was huge and I didn’t know anyone here in Norman. I had word of mouth that The Crucible folks were good to work with, but still the Colorado foundry was my comfort zone.”
Russell moved to Norman and lived here for five months during critical times of the Audubon project. She returned in late 2018 with husband and master welder Michael Dubail, living in a northwest side Airbnb residence. They’re working on a foam version of Secretariat at The Crucible’s second workplace off of Flood Avenue. The three-dimensional foam image is made prior to being cast in bronze.
“The Crucible has a five-star rating in my book,” Russell said. “They haven’t shown me anything but professionalism, being on time and a warm fuzzy family feeling which is important to me because I’m a huggy person. They have been phenomenal.”
There are other statues of Secretariat but Russell’s is the first one created over life size.
“The sheer scope and size of this animal is going to be monumental,” she said.
Russell’s entire artistic career has been as a wildlife artist in paintings and jewelry as well as sculpture. She grew up in Colorado’s San Luis Valley, close to nature and living creatures. Russell asked if there was a place nearby Norman where she could see some actual horseflesh and keep in touch while working on her sculpture. We drove to Belle Mere Farm on 10 Mile Flats where she was introduced to longtime horseman Dee Raper. He showed her his prize stallion Capo di Capi. The big beautiful quarter horse nuzzled right up to Russell’s petting hand.
“You’re a good boy,” she said. “Yes, you are.”