In The Limelight

Story Sponsored by the Kimball Family

Gloria the Eagle

The story of sculptor Richard Lazcano

 Interviews by Teresa Nguyen

June, 2022

It’s exciting to be a part of something bigger than myself, and to tell people my story...I’m living proof that dreams really do come true if you work hard. ~ Richard Lazcano
Photo by Victor Yañez-Lazcano 
Author's Note

The sequence of events and connections in this story have been rather serendipitous. But as Todd Kimball said in his interview, “Things happen for a reason.” 

The eagle is spiritually symbolic for both Native American cultures and others, as well. Gloria, the eagle sculpture, holds deep meaning for many here in our community, including the artist himself, his wife and the family of the donor.

Gloria, a beautiful eagle sculpture created by artist Richard Lazcano, is being installed in our Town Square along the Rock River this June of 2022. The Rock River flows into the Mississippi, where eagles also play an integral role in that ecosystem. The Mississippi is the very river that Bob Kimball, Bob Ozburn and their sons traversed on a homemade raft in the mid-1980s, all the way from Prairie du Chien to New Orleans. 

Click here to read the story: "Janesville's Tom Sawyer & Huck Finn" 
Bob Kimball passed away in February, 2021. That rafting trip was a father-son adventure unlike any other, and one Todd Kimball holds dear to his heart to this day. Bob’s widow Nancy told of how Bob loved bird watching and seeing the eagles along the wide Mississippi. Nancy sponsored this eagle sculpture in Bob’s memory.

Knowing this background, one can see how Bob Kimball’s adventurous spirit carries on through this meaningful and magnificent art piece in the heart of downtown Janesville.

We interviewed the sculptor, Richard Lazcano, and learned how he and his wife found solace watching the eagles along the Rock River, after losing their moms. 

This story is about Richard, the amazing connections he found and how this project was made possible for our community. It is the inspiring tale of loss, grief, healing, faith, honor, art, beauty, collaboration and joy.

Interview with Richard Lazcano
Welder, Artist, Dreamer, Sculptor

 
The Early Years

I was born in Waukesha, Wisconsin and moved to Janesville in 2003. I’m a first generation Mexican American. My parents were both from Durango, Mexico and came to the United States in the 1970s. My dad came to Waukesha to work at General Casting, which was part of General Motors. My mom worked at Lamp Light Farms in Menomonee Falls, Wisconsin.

We were a family of six, and I’m the youngest. I have three brothers and two sisters. I still get a lot of teasing from my siblings, being the youngest. My family helped me become who I am today. I don’t regret any of it.
My mom had a creative side, but didn’t have the opportunity to expand on that. She would take soda bottles, cut off the tops, heat them up, flair out the edges and create flower light covers. This was long before Pinterest. Her creativity was one of the things I loved about her.

Since the second grade, I’ve been creating art. Mr. Castaneda, my elementary art teacher, encouraged me. I had drawn a muscle man guy, like the Incredible Hulk. I didn’t think it was very good, but gave it to him and he hung it up! My older siblings, who had the same art teacher, said to me, “Richard, tell him to take it down, my friends are making fun of me.” But my teacher motivated me.

I’m thankful to Mr. Schrupp, my middle school art teacher and Mr. Foster in high school in Waukesha. I had a senior exhibit in high school in the hallway. That was really special. 
The Lazcano Family, with young Richard on the lower right
My grandmother died during that time, though, and I grabbed my art and took the bundle of it to her funeral. In my emotional state and with all the visitors, I misplaced it and never saw that art work of mine since then. It was somehow taken. Maybe someday someone will auction my ‘lost works’!

Post High School

After high school, I went to Waukesha County Technical College (WCTC) to study auto body work. I didn’t want to spend my life fixing dents in cars. I wanted to air brush and create art. I was young and had quit college before graduating. 
While still in school, though, the teacher brought in pin stripe and air brush artists from Milwaukee. That showed me that there were other things I could do with my skills. My instructor knew me well and I was always drawing, keeping busy with my ADHD. I had odds and ends jobs in that line of work from 1999 until I came to Janesville in 2003. I had done some pin stripes for various projects, as well.

United Alloy

I’ve worked as a welder at United Alloy for eight years now. Within the first few months there, I received Employee of the Month, and after the first year, I got Employee of the Year.

Bob Growney headed up a new United Alloy program called Dream Generators and there was a contest to create a logo. Whoever won the contest would get $1000. I ended up winning!

The director came up to me and asked if I’d want them to create a banner or if I’d want to paint the logo on the wall. I had anxiety about it, but my son encouraged me and said, “Dad, maybe you should just paint it.” So, I did! It’s a large mural piece on the upper wall of the plant.

I’ve learned a lot working in this position at United Alloy.
Richard Welding
Photo by Kim Hoholek Photography
 
"I encourage them to prioritize their dreams and goals. The employees have a variety of dreams from going back to school, to buying a house, or whatever they’re hoping to do." ~ Coach Bob Growney

United Alloy's Dream Generators Program
Interview with Bob Growney

In this program, I meet with employees to find out what inspires them and we work toward that. They fill out some background information and I encourage them to prioritize their dreams and goals. The employees have had a variety of dreams from going back to school, to buying a house, or whatever they’re hoping to do. 
Bob Growney

My first day at United Alloy, while introducing the Dream Generators program, I held a contest for coming up with a logo for the program. I said, “I’m looking for something creative.” Richard was among a group of welders, his co-workers, and they all pointed to him and said, “Richard!” The three shifts voted on the best entry and he won it!

 

Then he painted the logo on the wall. The mural turned out great. I love how he incorporated an eagle on the top, the gears, the original symbol of United Alloy and the stars. He put a lot of thought into it.

As far as this program goes, I was talking with Richard and he said, “Well, I have a dream.” I said, “Great! Let’s talk about it.”
 

I met with him several times, from short meetings to planning sessions. He was looking to start his own business and to branch out. He was seeking something that would utilize his creativity and give him an outlet for his creative energy. I’ve encouraged him to start slowly with the business, so that he continues to have the security of this job while he builds toward that goal.

Richard kept telling me that he was working on this eagle. I asked him, where are you going to put this? United Alloy allowed for him to work on it at the plant, on the side. When it got big enough, he moved it to his father-in-law’s place. It blossomed from there!

Richard is a gem. When you have someone like that in your company, who truly has it in his heart and knows how to reach out to people, I think that’s what makes him so popular.

Our Dream Generators program is my passion. I love to help people succeed. And it’s not what I do, but what people do for themselves.
Bob Growney and Richard - Photo by Kim Hoholek Photography

Richard Lazcano's Story (Cont'd)

A Variety of Art

I’ve been welding off and on for 20 years, but this is the first metal sculpture I’ve ever done. Prior to that I’ve done art work with all kinds of mediums. I’ve done paintings, sketching, engraving in metal, even some wood art. If I had the tools, I’d do more of that. 
 
I had done some murals in family members’ homes and such, like Rock of Cashel, an Irish castle, on my father-in-law’s wall. His family is Irish and his extended family are actually the caretakers of the castle.  

I also did a mural in a children’s room and some sign work, like a Barber Shop logo and some other things. I have engraved on steel, created custom gun frames, custom wheels, etc. I love collaborating on projects.

Gloria is my biggest and most elaborate piece so far. 

Originally, the sculpture was going to be on my front lawn. I made it for my wife and there’s a story behind that.
Richard's mural of The Rock of Cashel castle in County Tipperary, Ireland
The Story Behind Gloria

My mother-in-law passed away four years ago from cancer and it took a toll on all of us. We turned to God’s nature to heal our broken hearts. My wife, Megan, and I started birding and watching the eagles along the bend in the Rock River near Marling Lumber. We were interested in the eagles. That kept us strong together through the grief. 
 
We would watch them for hours with binoculars and we’d take photos. I bought her a camera just for that. We saw so many eagles and thought perhaps it was a sign from above.

During that whole time, I’d been thinking I should make my wife something.

Two years later, my mother passed away. Being the baby in the family, I was totally a “Mama’s Boy”. I’m not a bible pushing type, but it helped me through the grief to know that there’s something greater than us, whether it’s God or The Creator. So, we were at the funeral home, after my mom passed, and I saw an urn with an eagle on it. I took a picture of it. 

My mom was always my biggest supporter of my art. She would say, “God gave you this talent, don’t ever waste it.”

We went home from there and that’s when I started working on it. I worked on it for a year and a half before I told my wife about it!

My workplace, United Alloy, has been so supportive, letting me do this on my own time. 
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Megan and Richard Lazcano
So, I bought all my metals through them. It’s mostly made with mild steel and for the talons I used rebar, which is what is commonly used for concrete projects. I figured the rebar would give the talons a more authentic look.

I welded the pieces and grinded them smoothly. The variation in color is from both the heat and from the rusting. I cleared the head and the tail so that they won’t rust, to give it similarities to the colors of an eagle. If I need to, I’ll touch it up now and then.
I had no blueprint, I just envisioned it. I started with the big pieces and worked my way to the little ones and worked on the grooves, etc. All the bends and curves, I did with bending them over my legs. 

The individual pieces are punched out of a machine. It took me a month just to do the head, to shape it the way I wanted. My goal was to give it a realistic look.

With welding, it’s art. I tell that to the guys at my work. We need to take pride in what we do. A lot of people just see it as a job. Even that work takes special skill…maybe one day they’ll be able to do this kind of thing!
The eagle has an 8.5-foot wingspan tip to tip. It is 5 feet from head to tail and is 30 inches deep. The eagle itself is around 350 or 400 lbs. The stump is closer to 300 lbs. All in all, it will weigh close to a ton. It has taken 650 hours of work on the eagle itself, like two years working on it.

After my mom died, I had a dream. And in the dream, she said to me, “The meaning of life is to live your life, but know that everything is for His glory. So, whatever you do, do it in His glory.” That’s when I got the name for this eagle.
The name Gloria is Spanish, from the phrase Glory to God. The Creator created me and I can create for others. To do this glorifies Him. Gloria represents my faith in God, my relationship with my wife and our mothers. It also represents trust and patience.

Connecting and Expanding the Project

My former boss had said, “Hey, there’s this guy who wants to meet you, who wants you to do some welding.” Meanwhile, the downtown, privately funded art groups started the planning for the Birdwalk Alley project, behind Raven’s Wish. So, I met with Scott Petranek and then I heard about Birdwalk Alley.

I told him, “This is cool, that it’s about birds. I’m working on an eagle.” 
 
He said, “Oh, I’d love to see it!” I showed him pictures of it and he was amazed. So, we talked and discussed the possibility of adding it to the alley project downtown, though I wanted to first discuss it with my wife. 

I had the eagle at work. Then, when it got big enough, I took it to my father-in-law’s place, because he has a welder plug in. I knew he’d let me finish it in his garage. Scott Petranek introduced me to those involved. The Art in Place Alliance group and private sponsors started coming to see it at my father-in-law’s house. 

Interview with Scott Petranek
Landscape Artist

 

I’d been working on the idea of Birdwalk Alley, an area downtown that would include art of birds and floral designs. We want to have local artists of all ages contribute to this. Anyway, I needed a welder for an art piece I was doing. So, I called Michael Lynes, who used to work with Richard Lazcano at United Alloy. He told me about Richard, how he’s a super person and an amazing welder.
 

After meeting Richard, I told him I was involved in Birdwalk Alley and he just lit up, because he’d been working on this eagle. I was blown away by a video he showed me of the body of the eagle, without the wings. Later, he was going to Door County and I suggested he visit an outdoor sculpture garden there. I told him that he’s on the level with national artists!

My background is in landscaping, so when the art groups and Todd Kimball came up with the idea for where to place it, they asked me to help with the project. I drew up what would look good, a natural setting. The stone was placed around where the eagle will be and we cut it just right, to fit into the concrete.

I discovered the rock many years ago up north, where I met a farmer named Leonard Frens who had these stones in piles eight feet tall in his cornfield. He was throwing it away, burying the rock by the semi loads! So I hooked him up with the Bruce Company in Madison, where I used to work, and he has done well in the stone business. 

I’m self employed and am more of a woodworker. Doing this was the first time in 22 years that I picked up a rock to use for beauty! We went up for the rocks last fall. Frens Stone of Waupun donated the rock, because of our past connection. We started unloading the pallets this spring. Todd Kimball has helped me a lot with the work.

I had a lot to do with the development of the Rotary Botanical Gardens.
Scott laying the stones - Photo by Kim Hoholek Photography
They put a plaque up, but that wasn’t important to me. What was important for me was that my sons knew what their dad did, so they could show their grandkids someday. I know that in 30 years, that pile of rock around Gloria will be in the same place because it was put in right. 

It's meaningful to me, not only because of the pride in the workmanship, but because it’s a way to give back to this community. There are so many neat things going on right now in Janesville!

Interview with Mary Rekowski
Co-Chair of Art in Place Alliance

 
In the summer of 2021, I met Scott Petranek in Birdwalk Alley, where he was doing some work. He wanted to expand Birdwalk Alley. He introduced us to Richard. He knew that Richard was working on an eagle sculpture. Scott wanted to add that to Birdwalk Alley.

Sue Burkart and I were invited to see the sculpture in progress. At the time, it was at his father-in-law’s, where he was working on it in his spare time. It was amazing to see. We even worried about its security!

We knew Nancy Kimball was looking to sponsor an art piece and her son, Todd, had seen the eagle early on, as well. They knew right away that this was it! The way their family has given the artist full control brings out the best. 

Richard’s story is so humbling and modest and with the Kimballs’ involvement and support of downtown, it’s wonderful! There are a lot more people stepping up now. It’s all very inspiring.

Interview with Sue Burkart
Co-Chair of Art in Place Alliance

When we first went to see the eagle we thought, “It’s just incredible”. Even at that stage of the sculpture, Todd was saying, “I want Richard to have full artistic license with us.”

I take my grandchildren downtown all the time. They’re witnessing history unfolding with these projects. I tell them, “Remember this when you’re older, that this happened here!”

Heading up this committee together with Mary, I almost feel like we’re flying a plane and we have to learn how to land it now! We’re learning as we go and we’re being guided.

There are naysayers out there, we see them all the time. But I always say, “Get involved! If you don’t like it, what would you do differently?” They need to get out there and make that difference. People also sometimes don’t understand that we’re a privately funded group. That’s important to note. 

And we’ve had more people coming in who want to do more sculptures downtown. We’re also very thankful to the Gilmore family for donating the fencing around this project. I love how one thing leads to the next and seeing all the connections of people to Gloria!

Interview with Nancy Kimball
Donor for Gloria the Eagle Sculpture

 

In Bob Kimball's Memory

Bob and I had wanted to donate the money for the art projects downtown. Bob was so involved in the community and we want to continue his legacy. We love the mural on the Kimball Education building by Ivan Roque. It’s so beautiful. I love to see kids at the Farmers Market running up to it and running their hands over it. The murals have done a lot for Janesville!
 

I love going to art shows. Bob and I used to go to art shows with the kids. He wasn’t into it at first, but that changed and he grew to love and appreciate it with me.
 

Eventually, we wanted to help with a sculpture, but we didn’t know what it would be. We had been to several parks, where you’d see nice exhibits with one single sculpture or piece of art.  We knew we didn’t want the money to just go into a general fund.

So, Scott Petranek introduced Richard to Todd, who then introduced me to Richard when Gloria was still at his father-in-law’s.

Bob loved eagles, for one thing. I don’t know if it was their massive size or beauty, but he really loved seeing them. He even donated to someone who used to help injured eagles. Gloria is so strong and big, kind of majestic. It’s like his personality. Bob was a big thinker.

“Dad and I shared a love for birds. He helped our children (and neighbors) build many bluebirds nest boxes over the years. He also gave me a hand carved wooden eagle feather many years ago. So Gloria is just a magnificent gift to the city of Janesville, as a gift from our family!”

~ Robin Kimball 

Interview with Todd Kimball 
Donor for Gloria the Eagle Sculpture

Bob Kimball
Read Bob's story here: 
Dad was always into birds, especially big birds like the cranes and osprey and he bought large bird art pieces. At my dad’s shop, he built an osprey nest and had a sign, “For rent, osprey only.” That was his quirky sense of humor.

When we went down the Mississippi on the raft, we had binoculars and would watch for the birds and the eagles. 

He bought an eagle head sculpture for me and a wooden eagle feather art piece for my twin sister, Robin. My sister is really into birding, too. I think she got that from my dad.

Now, I always come over to the house and fill all the bird feeders, especially these last couple of years.

Things happen for a reason. I know Richard feels grateful to my mom for this, too. He feels blessed. And Mary and Sue are great as well, with heading up the Art in Place Alliance, and we're thankful how ARISENow and the art groups are coming together. This would have not happened without them! It’s a long process.
Gradient
Bob Kimball on his raft on the Mississippi
(During this interview with Nancy and Todd, a cardinal landed on a nearby branch and sat there a long while looking at us. Nancy looked up at it and said, “Oh look, a cardinal!” She smiled sweetly, “Maybe it’s Bob visiting us.”)

Originally, the location for the sculpture was going to be on a grassy area closer to Court Street. But I thought we should place it where it would be a little more protected, in the area where it is now. A fence was needed and, thankfully, the Gilmore family stepped up for that, which was really nice.
Kimball Family 2.jpg
The Kimball family on a boating trip where they saw dozens of eagles
 

Dr. William 'Bill' Gilmore
Donor for Project Completion

I’ve been working with Scott on the rock nest. We went up near Waupun to pick up some dolomite rock and brought it back for the nest. I brought gravel down to the site and worked with Scott, kind of as his assistant. It’s all set in limestone. The mortar is dry stack. It will set over time. 

We feel it’s a special area, too, the heart of the city. My dad had owned the two buildings there, where Raven’s Wish is, plus the Kimball Education Center building. He cared about saving these historical buildings. He also bought the Fredendall building, where is Adorn is. Some people thought my dad was crazy for buying those old buildings. I remember working work with him down there. The mall had been built and the downtown was deserted. We’re so glad to see the downtown come alive again! This eagle is in a great area, the ideal spot for everyone to see it.
Dr. Wayne Gilmore, his wife, Lois, and their son, Dr. William Gilmore
My parents had lived here for many years and really enjoyed raising a family here in Janesville. They also became involved with the community. With the rejuvenation of the downtown and the Town Square, I think they would have loved to be involved in that.

I wanted to do something in their memory to show how much they loved Janesville and how they felt about it. And learning more about Richard and why he created this sculpture, it makes everything more special, that there’s all this meaning behind Gloria the eagle.

To me, the eagle represents strength and longevity, like Janesville. The strength is in the people coming together to make it a better place, and the longevity is in how far we've come. Hopefully, we will stay on this positive course a long time from now.

Richard Lazcano's Story (Cont'd)

Before I began, just watching the eagles along the Rock River made me feel good. I love that it’s connected to the Rock River in the Town Square. And bringing the big rocks from another part of Wisconsin, to be a part of something that I built, is pretty cool. 

For this to be dedicated to Bob Kimball is also really special. I’ve heard so many good things about him and can imagine that his son is a lot like him in all good ways. I am grateful for meeting Todd Kimball. He has a friend in me for life! 

I’m working on a bear sculpture now, so this creative work isn’t over. I’ve been so busy with Gloria the eagle, so there hasn’t been much time for that.
Family

I met Megan at The Looking Glass in Janesville. We hung out a lot and the sparks flew. She’s a cool chick! She deserves so much praise. Megan has been my rock in supporting my art and our family.

We have three children. They also exhibit artistic abilities. The oldest is 16 now and he’s not as into it. My 14-year-old and 11-year-old love art. The youngest is really creative and I see her skills…she’s good! The kids got to see the eagle when Megan saw it. They all had smiles and were so happy about it. They were thinking that Dad’s pretty awesome. 

My own father is getting older now. I hope he can come and see it.

This is both nerve wracking and exciting for me! The way this all came together is beautiful. 
The Lazcano Family
Photo by Willow Walk Photography
 
Support for Gloria Installation

Thinking of how I created Gloria for her, I went to ask my wife about having it become public art. I told her, “I’m making it for you.”  I wanted to be sure she would be okay with this going into a downtown installation. She said, “You can’t exactly make me a new one.”

There’s truth to that! When I do art, I want to keep each piece unique. Megan approved, agreeing that this was bigger than the both of us and a very meaningful project for us and for the community.

Todd Kimball has been supportive every step of the way. He also donated an old light pole. I took the piece and made it into a tree trunk base. I’ve made one of the pieces look like a broken branch or stump.
 
Local photographer, Kim Hoholek, was brought in to the project early on to photograph the process of Gloria in the making. She has beautifully captured Gloria's progress and essence.

Kim has connections to the Native American cultures of the area, so she contacted Billy Bob Grahn, who in turn contacted his elders for permission to bless the site and hold the drum ceremony at Gloria's reveal event.

The eagle is significant in Native American cultures. To Native Americans, the eagle is the greatest sacred bird, as they are the highest flying birds, nearest to The Creator. Eagles are believed to carry prayers to the Great Spirit and have a special connection with visions. 
Billy Bob Grahn performing a Native American ritual at the site of Gloria the eagle sculpture
Photo by Kim Hoholek Photography
In the photo, Billy Bob Grahn is seen performing a smudge. Smudging is a native ritual, bridging the gap between the mortal life and higher realms, bringing in good spirits and eliminating any negative energy. This ceremony lifts away sadness, impurities and anxieties, leaving nothing but peace and harmony it its place after the cleansing. 

Megan was taking photos of the eagle sculpture, stopped and looked at me and we were both like, “Holy sh**, this is weird how this happened!” It started with our moms. I’m hoping they’re proud of this. I see cardinals in my back yard and think of them both.
Reflections

I’m so grateful for this opportunity.

Where I came from, in my youth, I was always told by others, “You can’t do that.” I felt like people were saying, “You’re nothing”.

So, yeah, I’m really proud of this. I want to inspire others, because I came from nothing. It’s exciting to be a part of something bigger than myself, and to tell people my story.

I’m living proof that dreams really do come true if you work hard.

The public is invited to the
Gloria the Eagle Reveal Event


When: Friday, June 24th, 2022
At 5 pm

Where: Town Square (west side near The Bubbler)

What: The reveal of the sculpture, remarks of gratitude, a celebration of art in our community