WSU alums honor Steve Clark’s late wife with bronze tribute to WuShock

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WSU alums honor Steve Clark’s late wife with bronze tribute to WuShock

Graphic designer Wade Hampton and sculptor Connie Ernatt are working together on an eight-and-a-half-foot tall WuShock statue.

Graphic designer Wade Hampton and sculptor Connie Ernatt are working together on an eight-and-a-half-foot tall WuShock statue.

Khánh Nguyễn

Graphic designer Wade Hampton and sculptor Connie Ernatt are working together on an eight-and-a-half-foot tall WuShock statue.

Khánh Nguyễn

Khánh Nguyễn

Graphic designer Wade Hampton and sculptor Connie Ernatt are working together on an eight-and-a-half-foot tall WuShock statue.

Wade Hampton knows WuShock pretty well. He’s drawn a lot of Wu’s over the years – everything from a rockstar-Wu to a zombie-Wu. But the Wichita State alumnus never thought he’d be working on a larger-than-life WuShock sculpture

Hampton, a graphic designer at Spectrum Promotional, is working with sculptor and Diver Studio art gallery co-owner Connie Ernatt, to capture the perfect likeness of WuShock for a new bronze sculpture. Hampton drew the Wu and Ernatt is now recreating it in bronze. 

Shocker alumnus Steve Clark is gifting the statue to The Steve Clark YMCA and WSU Student Wellness Center, set to open in January. It’s a tribute to Wu and a memorial to his late wife, Judy Broshears Clark, who died in a car accident in 1989.

 

From paper to bronze

Lou Heldman, WSU’s Vice President for Strategic Communications, had a coaster in his office with a picture of Wu on it – one that Hampton created.

“I got a photo from Lou Heldman, a photo of his coaster in his office,” Hampton said. “The message with the photo said, ‘Is this your Wu?’”

Hampton told him it was and Heldman replied, ‘Can we talk?’, Hampton said.

They began discussing the project.

“I brought the coaster to our first meeting to show Wade the high-energy, fists-up Wu I thought would work well,” Heldman said. 

Heldman said Hampton was the clear choice for this work.

“His many drawings of Wu over the years have so clearly captured the combination of toughness, grit, and humor that we all associate with our mascot,” Heldman said. 

Hampton had no experience with sculpture work but said he was willing to conceptualize the WuShock on paper. 

He then asked if there was a sculptor picked out yet. They said no.

‘I know the best one,” Hampton said. 

Hampton called in Ernatt to capture the likeness of WuShock in bronze. 

The biggest problem was that this project needed to be finished quickly.

“Something like this generally would take a year to do and we were already shorter than that,” Ernatt said. 

Despite being committed to two other large projects this year, and the looming December deadline, Ernatt took the job.

 

What’s a Wu, anyways?

The fact that the piece is being made by two WSU alums is a bonus.

“It’s especially cool that Wade and Connie already had deep ties to the university,” Heldman said.

Those ties aren’t just cool, they’re useful. They both know who Wu is. More importantly, they know what Wu is – a wheatshocker. 

Legend has it that in 1904, WSU, which was called Fairmount College at the time, needed a name for their football team. Football manager and student R.J. Kirk came up with “Wheatshockers”, because many of the players earned tuition and board harvesting, or “shocking,” wheat during the summer. Early football games were even played on a stubbled wheat field.

People outside this community might be confused about what Wu is supposed to be, Ernatt said.

“My foundry’s down in Texas,” she said. “They’re like, what is this? Is he Hawaiian?” 

The man mistakenly believed that Wu’s wearing a Hawaiian grass skirt. Ernatt and Hampton said it’s just the bottom of the wheat shock poking out beneath Wu’s shirt.

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The statue will weigh about 1,500 pounds and is a memorial to Steve Clark’s late-wife Judy Broshears Clark. Steve Clark is the major donor behind the new YMCA. It’ll be called The Steve Clark YMCA and WSU Student Wellness Center.

The Artist’s Touch

Hampton said he likes to make Wu to look like a bit of a madman. 

“I like him more cartoony and skinny and weird, and he’s in rock bands,” he said.

Both Ernatt and Hampton said Wu needs to look like a fighter to be a good mascot. They’ve worked hard to make sure that this gets portrayed.

Hampton said he was a comic book fanatic growing up. This influenced how he drew the Wu.

“He’s supposed to be fearless,” he said. 

Ernatt also wanted Wu to be tough.

“Connie took it to the next level,” Hampton said.

Ernatt bulked up Wu’s legs to add a hulk-like quality to Wu. She also gave Wu teeth, which hadn’t been done before. 

On his back, Wu carries a scythe – the handheld tool that’s traditionally used for cutting wheat.

Ernatt said she’s also included symbolic elements. Because the sculpture is a memorial to Judy Broshears Clark, there’s a nod to her in the work.

“I thought, what can I add to this that would kind of symbolize her? She’s already left us. So I added the little bird on the back,” she said. “He’s this big strong WuShock, but he’s also protector of all the little critters in the field.” 

Ernatt said she started to think about hiding a few other things on and around Wu. Ernatt incorporated details to represent the people who have worked on the project. 

There’s a butterfly, a spider and a rabbit. 

The rabbit was Hampton’s idea. And his work. 

“I’ve got this thing for rabbits,” Hampton said. “I said, ‘would you allow me to try to sculpt a rabbit and maybe shove it in there somewhere?’”

Hampton said he might as well have asked a painter if he could finish the corner of their artwork. But the sculpture is supposed to be a collaborative effort.

Instead of insisting that she do it herself,  Ernatt responded warmly to the request. 

“She said, ‘I have to get you some clay,'” Hampton said. 

Though he’s not sculpted before, Hampton successfully made a clay rabbit. It’s now at the base of Ernatt’s sculpture.