There are a lot of numbers behind the two large moose on Kenai Peninsula College’s Kenai River Campus.
The bull moose are over 16 feet high, 20 feet long and each weigh several tons. The entire project took over 11 years to complete, with construction starting in 2006 and finishing on April 14. Over the span of these 11 years, artist Paul Tornow put in nearly 1,000 hours of work into the piece, titled “Strength in the Face of Adversity.”
“It’s been a long project, a long haul on and off …” Tornow said. “I really didn’t know what I was getting myself into at the time. I thought I was just going to build a couple of larger-than-life moose that were going at it.”
Tornow did build those larger than life moose, known colloquially as Leroy and Harvey, after receiving unanimous endorsement from the Kenai Peninsula College Leadership Team, the Kenai Peninsula College Council and the college’s director, Gary Turner, in 2006.
“I’ve had other students come to me with big ideas and they haven’t come to fruition,” Turner said. “I was hesitant with this one, but Paul’s reputation as an outstanding student with a very strong work ethic — he frequently took 20 to 21 credits in a semester — gave me reason to believe in him.”
After receiving approval, Tornow went straight to work. Step one was learning how to weld, he said.
“I got certified in structural welding and got started on the first moose … but we realized it wasn’t going to be structurally sound so I had to completely scrap that one and start over,” Tornow said.
From there, Tornow described the artistic process as “trial and error.”
“I thought, holy cow, this is going to be a lot bigger than I thought it was going to be,” he said. “I was shooting from the hip. … We had to flesh it out, make it all come together and actually look like moose.”
From 2006 to this April, Tornow worked on the project on and off while simultaneously earning his Bachelors in Fine Arts from the University of Anchorage and while raising a family. Throughout the years, he would return to campus to work on the project whenever he had free time.
The first moose was finished in 2007, but scrapped shortly after becuase it wasn’t structurally sound. The second interation of the first moose was finished around 2009, Tornow said. The second of the two moose structures took Tornow the better part of a decade to complete.
“This project was looming over me and I really wanted to finish it. I was trying to find the time when I could get out there and my wife and I are moving, so it was do or die,” Tornow said. “Plus, Gary (Turner) kept working with me and knew I wouldn’t let this one slide.”
On April 14, the sculpture was completed — the two bull moose are now forever squaring off for battle on the campus’s lawn.
“It’s like a huge weight has been lifted off my shoulders,” Tornow said.
The three-dimensional piece has to be experienced up close, according to Tornow.
“You see the activated space between the two moose when you walk around and between them. You can feel the tension between the two, deciding which one will be the victor,” he said.
The two moose epitomize the theme of the piece “Strength in the Face of Adversity,” which Tornow hopes will appeal to a wide audience.
“I think everyone can kind of relate to this project. …You think of two bull moose, one of them is going to come out the victor and one will eventually back down. You can use that metaphor for so many aspects of your life, whether it’s your education, some kind of hurdle or completing an 11-year project like this one,” Tornow said.
Tornow said the project would have taken even longer if he didn’t have the help of Dave Stang, a college employee.
“I really appreciate the college believing in me and the help of Dave Stang. I couldn’t have done it without him,” Tornow said.
Tornow, who currently lives in Soldotna, is moving to Wisconsin with his family in June and said he is excited to have completed the project before he leaves.
“While he may be gone, he has left a legacy that should last forever,” Turner said.
Reach Kat Sorensen at firstname.lastname@example.org