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Mr. Rogers Sculpture Headed For Rollins College

Paul Day works on a clay model for his sculpture of Mr. Rogers. Photo courtesy of the artist.
Paul Day works on a clay model for his sculpture of Mr. Rogers. Photo courtesy of the artist.

A bronze sculpture of Fred Rogers is on its way to Rollins College. The sculpture of the Rollins alumnus, which stands about 7 feet tall and weighs more than 3,000 pounds, took about two years to complete. 

Sculptor Paul Day, who lives in France, says the project came about from a chance encounter with a Rollins trustee, Alan Keen and his wife, Linda, who visited Day’s studio while on vacation and asked if he would create the sculpture for the college. 

Day tells Intersection that knew nothing about Mr. Rogers before he started researching the piece. Googling Fred Rogers led to “an epiphany,” he says. 

“ I had never heard of him, never heard him speak, never seen a picture of him and all of a sudden, my computer screen was awash with images of Fred and his puppets. And of course videos of previous episodes of what I came to learn was Mr. Rogers Neighborhood. I was bowled over by this man and by his incredible wisdom and generosity of spirit and intelligence and educational prowess.

Day says the project became a personal quest for him after meeting with Fred Rogers’ wife Joanne, who passed away earlier this year. He wanted the sculpture to evoke something different from two statues depicting Mr. Rogers in Latrobe, PA and Pittsburgh, PA. 

“I felt that what was missing in those statues was something that tells the story of who he was,” says Day.

“I felt that the sculpture would be something that’s going to outlive the memory of him among people who are alive today, quite possibly. And therefore it should in some way, explain itself, show him doing what he did best, and why he became so loved.”

The piece that will sit on the Rollins College campus depicts Mr. Rogers seated and talking to a group of children, with his puppet Daniel Striped Tiger on his hand. Day says he was inspired by scenes from the TV show and the documentary ‘Won’t You Be My Neighbor.’

“One of the great things about Fred was that when he spoke to a child, he spoke to that child as a human being, not as a child, but as somebody with whom he could have a deep and meaningful conversation, albeit on their level. But it wasn’t, it wasn’t in any way, an approach that talked down to children.”

Day says he’s planning to be in Florida when the sculpture is unveiled in October- although the pandemic has made it difficult for him to get a visa to travel. 

“I mean, if I had to row the Atlantic, I would row the Atlantic but I’ve got to be there,” says Day.

Copyright 2021 WMFE. To see more, visit WMFE.

Matthew Peddie