The bronze elk that will one day grace the roundabout at Highway 87 and Tyler Parkway was taken to a foundry in the Valley Monday for casting.
But Jeanie Langham, who is leading the effort to raise $100,000 to complete the project, says the elk will probably not be placed in the roundabout until the latter part of the year. Before the elk is placed, the hardscape (boulders) and landscape (trees and plants) have to go in.
"We have to have $39,000 right off the bat," she said. "That's without the bronze. We wanted the boulders in by last October or November, but didn't have the money."
The best time to plant is in the fall after the boulders are in, and the elk should be ready to place once that's completed.
Local artist Jim Keller was commissioned to do the bronze elk. He explained the process the foundry will go through to turn his clay model, reinforced with armature wire and galvanized pipe, into a life-size bronze statue.
"They'll do a latex mold, and from the latex mold they'll pour a wax," he said. "Then they'll give me a call and tell me the wax is done and I'll come down and check it out.
"Once I approve the wax, they do another mold, a ceramic mold. They start with a real light silicon sand and cover it and cover it and cover it and build it up.
"Then they pour the bronze with all the ports and wax squirts out, and they take a hammer and they break the mold off. They totally destroy the mold.
"Then it's time to do the patina. A guy with a torch and colored acids brushes it on and I stand there while he's coloring everything.
"It's quite a process. It's gone on for thousands of years."
The life-size elk will stand about five-and-a-half feet high and seven-and-a-half feet long. The antlers will measure 57 inches and are modeled after an actual elk rack that was loaned to Keller.
Because it's hollow, the bronze elk will weigh less than a real elk -- although Keller estimates it will still weigh 800 pounds.
While the process unfolds at the foundry, Langham and her organization -- Payson Gateway Project -- hope to raise the money they need. A good part of it will come from the sale of smaller bronze replicas of the elk that will also be cast by the foundry.
There will be 24 models the same size as the original clay model (which is almost two feet long) and 48 smaller "desk-size" models. Prices have not yet been determined.
Langham and Keller hope the remainder of the money will come via contributions from people throughout the Rim Country.
"‘Spirit of the Rim' is what he's called," Keller said of his sculpture, "and we want to include everyone in the Rim Country in this project. This is the welcome to the Rim Country going north, and coming into town it's welcome to Payson."
When completed the elk will stand atop a rock outcropping, with native landscaping and the Payson town logo inside the traffic circle. The landscaping planned for the town's first roundabout will include at least three ponderosa pines, some other native trees, and drought-tolerant shrubs.
When the project was first proposed, the Arizona Department of Transportation said yes. But then ADOT changed its mind and said no, before changing its mind once again and giving the go-ahead.
The final approval came after ADOT realized the design the committee proposed for the roundabout makes it safer, not less safe.
"What they want is something there that you cannot see through," Langham. said. "That's why ADOT wanted that (mound of) dirt there, for safety reasons, and that's why we're back on.
"You want to block the sight distance in the center island to opposing traffic, as well as headlights. That's part of the safety in it."
According to the Payson Gateway Project's mission statement, the organization is "dedicated to establishing a visual sense of place" along the community's business corridors" through this and future projects."
The elk is particularly appropriate for this roundabout because elk used to frequent the meadow where The Home Depot now sets, according to Langham.
To make a contribution to the project, checks should be made payable to Payson Gateway Project and mailed to P.O. Box 1525, Payson, AZ 85547. Contributions are tax deductible.
For more information, call (928) 474-6610.
360-degree view of roundabout elk model