PHOTO COURTESY OF MICHELE CHONG Enlarge
The bronze statues of a boxer in classic stance with determined brow are treasured by the dozens of men who own them.
Panamanian boxing legend Roberto Duran received his own 12-inch trophy of The Prizefighter in October when he and seven others were inducted into the World Boxing Hall of Fame during a Los Angeles ceremony.
The statues are designed and cast by Ottawa Hills native Steve Harpst, who has made them annually for five years.
Harpst, 46, a resident of Burbank, Calif., a northern suburb of Los Angeles, founded the Burbank Boxing Club, where he has taught boxing for 10 years. He serves on the board of the World Boxing Hall of Fame.
He was in fourth grade when his family moved from Ottawa Hills to Tucson to improve the health of his younger brother.
"I was heartbroken. I loved where we lived," he said in a telephone interview. His father, Howard, coached his baseball team and sometimes took young Steve to clinics with Mud Hens players and to games at Tiger Stadium in Detroit.
After graduating from the University of Arizona, Harpst sold television advertising. In 1986 his next-door neighbor invited him to a Sunday morning watercolor painting group. He enjoyed it, and one day a happy accident occurred: His neighbor brought along some clay, from which Harpst modeled a cowboy and discovered a passion.
The next year, he found deeper artistic inspiration as he backpacked around Europe, touring cathedrals and museums.
"I started casting more pieces," he said. "I thought it was something I would end up doing later in life but it took off sooner than I anticipated."
He eventually made two statues that could be paired to look as if they were facing off; one was former heavyweight champ Mike Tyson, and the other, the great Muhammad Ali. Harpst called the arrangement Dream Fight, so named because the two boxers, from different eras, never fought each other.
At a 1998 event, he introduced himself to Maurice "Dub" Harris, a founder of the World Boxing Hall of Fame, and told him he made bronze statues. Harris asked to see Harpst's work and invited him to display some art at the group's annual banquet. Harpst attended the next ceremony, where he showed Dream Fight.
"People loved them," Harpst said.
The owner of a Florida gallery who sold collectibles to boxing enthusiasts requested some copies. "People in the boxing community caught wind of it. People started calling from around the country."
Within a few years, he was making The Prizefighter for all Hall of Fame inductees. He's since become a board member for the group, and he does not make a profit on the labor-intensive bronzes.
He's been commissioned to make reliefs, plaques, and statues, some weighing as much as 25 pounds. In 2001 and 2002, he won top prizes at the Burbank Art Association Spring Show.
In September, a 15-inch-tall bronze statue of a baseball catcher fielding a pop-up was presented to California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger at the 25th anniversary salute to the Los Angeles Dodgers' 1981 World Championship team. Harpst was commissioned to make it by an event organizer.
Harpst sold television advertising until about three years ago, when his avocation began paying off enough for it to become his vocation. His pieces range in price from $500 to $5,000.
He's preparing to start modeling a bronze of a football player, and is considering making representations of several sports figures including basketball and tennis players.
Contact Tahree Lane at: