Bronze sculpture captures favorite ‘Son’ of the Osage

Mike ErwinJournal-Capital

An original bronze sculpture by renowned local artist John D. Free shows Ben Johnson Jr. — Osage County’s favorite “Son” — riding a horse while in the process of roping a steer.

The sculpture is central to the Ben Johnson Memorial Project, which was launched last month by the Preserving Arts in the Osage organization. It also is appropriate to Saturday’s 63rd Ben Johnson Memorial Steer Roping at the Osage County Fairgrounds Arena, although the annual roping event is actually named in honor of the late actor’s namesake father.

“Ben Johnson” — the official name of the bronze artwork — will be on display Thursday through Saturday, 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.,through the last weekend in September. It is being created at the Old Fire Station No. 1 Art Center in downtown Pawhuska. Originally constructed around 1920, the building (located behind City Hall and adjacent to the historic Constantine Theater) served as the local fire station until 1977.

The Ben “Son” Johnson Memorial Exhibit will feature professional artists at work on the 1-1/4 life-size monument. Eventually, docents will be explaining the process and guiding visitors through the center, officials said. Guests also can view objects owned by the late actor, as well as by the artist. Once completed, the Ben Johnson Monument is expected to be about 14 feet tall and 32 feet long. The project is being overseen by Pawhuska’s Bronze Horse Foundry.

Johnson was born in 1918 at Foraker. June 13 would have been Johnson’s 98th birthday. The Academy Award-winning actor died April 8, 1996, in Mesa, Ariz. He is buried in the Pawhuska City Cemetery.

Free, a Pawhuska native, was born April 7, 1929. He was an award winning sculptor and painter and a self-styled. Free died in 2014. Beginning in mid-October 2016, Woolaroc Museum will host a John D. Free Retrospective to exhibit the Pawhuska artist’s work. The show is to run until the end of the year.

The Ben Johnson Memorial Project is sponsored by Preserving Arts in the Osage, a non-profit supporting the arts, culture and tourism. Donations to the completion of the monument are tax deductible, officials said. Levels of contribution include: $25 The Cowpuncher; $50 The Trail Boss; $100 Cattleman; $250 Rancher; $500 Cattle Baron; $7,000 The World Champion—all the above plus a bronze of the Ben Johnson by John D. Free measuring 20 inches by 32 inches.

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