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Billings Sculptor's Work to Grace Minneapolis Greenspace
Monday, March 15, 2004
Jaci Webb The Billings Gazette.

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For nearly three decades, sculptor Bill Rains has carved the faces of country music legends in his Heights studio.

This winter, he added another entry to his sculpture portfolio - the faces of his grandchildren in statues for a special memorial.

Two years ago Rains got the opportunity to create the memorial to honor Billings landscape architect Ted Wirth's grandfather, the late Theodore Wirth, who was a visionary in park design.

The elder Wirth loved children and fought to open parklands to them in the early 1900s in Minneapolis, when parks were off-limits and meant to be seen, not touched. To honor Wirth's achievements, the city's largest park, which is about the same size at New York City's Central Park, was renamed Theodore Wirth Park.

On June 19, the Theodore Wirth Sculpture Garden, graced with bronze statues of Wirth and a group of children frolicking at his side, will be dedicated.

Ted Wirth modeled for the statue of his grandfather so that Rains could use the lines and veins in Ted's hands to make the likeness of his grandfather more authentic. The statue, like Rains' other work, reveals Theodore's personality as he peers warmly down at the young girl whose hand he holds, beckoning her to join in the fun.

The story goes that Theodore Wirth ordered that the fences around the parks be torn down and that he directed park police to escort the children to the park to play.

Rains captured the faces of four of his grandchildren - Sidney, Braydon, Kaylee and Shalyn - for his statues of children for the Minneapolis park. Sidney and Braydon invited their classmates at Bitterroot Elementary School to visit their grandfather's studio today to see the pieces adorned with their faces.

Later this week, the first batch of children's statues will head to a Billings foundry where the bronze casting process will begin. When completed, the full-size bronze statues weigh between 1,000 and 1,500 pounds.

Sketches of clothing from the 1920s and 1930s, which he used in his statues of the children, are taped to Rains' studio walls next to replica guitars used in his Western sculptures.

Rains strives for authenticity in all he does. A baseball bat used at Theodore Wirth Park in the 1920s is carried by a young boy in one statue, and a sled from the same period was added to the statue of another youngster.

Since 1965, Rains, 67, has followed his dream of creating larger-than-life bronze sculptures that have become sentimental memorials to the musicians he grew up listening to. He's sculpted Hank Williams, George Jones, Johnny Cash, Elvis Presley and Buck Owens to name a few and has orders for several more.

Rains sculpts his bronze statues 15 percent larger than life because that's how their fans see them, he said Monday at his studio.

He spends hours poring over the faces of the musicians he sculpts and watches their videos over and over to capture just the right expressions on their faces as they perform.

His bronze sculptures of country-music stars Buck Owens and Johnny Cash are up at the Crystal Palace dinner club and museum in Bakersfield, Calif., and Rains is completing eight more statues for the series that will open in October.

The exhibit will include bronze statues of Merle Haggard, Willie Nelson, Elvis Presley, Hank Williams, Bob Wills, George Jones, George Strait and Garth Brooks.
Rains and his sons, Dustin and Mark, are working nights and weekends to complete the project. His son Randy creates custom-made hats for the sculptures.

Everywhere in Rains' studio are reminders of Rains' career and the effect he has had on the music world.

A sketch of Garth Brooks taped to one wall prompts a story about the four days Rains spent in Brooks' houseboat last year measuring the musician for his statue.


A large color photo stirs up another tale.

"We took the statue of Wild Bill to the front of the Irma Hotel in Cody at 3 a.m. to get this shot just as the sun was coming up,'' Rains said.

But perhaps the most compelling story of all emerges when Rains looks at the picture of Johnny Cash in front of his statue on display in Shreveport, La., in 2000.

"Johnny looked at the statue of him holding a Bible in one hand and his guitar in the other, and, with tears running down his cheeks he said, 'Bill, God, family and music are the most important things in life.' ''




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