World-famous sculptor shapes Portland Immigrant Statue

See this statue – destined to be bronzed, and installed in Parkrose – taking shape in the hands of master sculptor Jim Gion. It’s part of the Parkrose centenary celebration this summer …

Parkrose resident, and master sculptor, Jim Gion models the face of the Portland Immigrant Statue in his home studio.

Story and photos by David F. Ashton
Although his public and privately commissioned works of art – usually finished as bronze sculpture – are highly valued around the world, not many locals know that sculptor Jim Gion works his craft in his home studio, just a couple blocks west of Parkrose High School.

When we first visited that studio not long ago, he was fashioning what will become the Portland Immigrant Statue, to be installed in Parkrose in the “triangle” intersection of NE Sandy Boulevard and NE Killingsworth Street. It’s part of the 100th anniversary, celebrating the founding of the community.

Although a serious artist, Gion appears to enjoy doing his work in front of an “audience”, as he describes his process to those watching.

Because he specializes in human images, Gion tells us this particular project is much like his others. “But, it’s to become part of the neighborhood, and I’m going to be living with this for a long time, so I want to make sure it’s especially good. I like making sculpture, so this is a fun project; my work is fun for me.”

His first hurdle was to create an “armature” sturdy enough to hold the modeling clay. Gion said his first attempt didn’t work out, so he scrapped it and started over. “The technique I’m using here is one that I developed a few years ago that I use on smaller pieces. This is the first time I’ve used it on something this big. There’s a little trepidation whether not all fall apart – but so far, it is holding up just fine.”

The modeling clay’s thickness ranges from under a half-inch to over an inch he says, as he continues working.

Stroke by stroke, Gion “discovers” the man taking shape from what was once smooth clay.

For this piece, the sculptor said he took measurements of many people, including himself. “I’ve averaged those measurements to create this man. We don’t really know exactly what he’ll look like until we’re done. It’s part of the discovery process – you see it evolve throughout the process.

As he continued to model the clay, Gion spoke about the nature of this project. “In a sense, we’re all immigrants here. This guy isn’t of any particular nationality. He represents someone who is looking for a place to be; to discover what he is going to be.  On a philosophical level, it’s a portrait of just about anybody who is conscious, I suppose.”

The anatomical detail of the man must be accurate in every detail, Gion says, before he “drapes” the clothing on it.

The man of clay was clearly naked, and anatomically correct in all details – something we found surprising.

“I start off with the basic structure, and the musculature, and put on its skin,” Gion explains. “Then, I’ll ‘hang’ the clothing on it. Clothing never hangs right unless you have the basic anatomy, with the muscles and bones, fully in place. If you don’t, the work usually looks like the air has been sucked out of it.”

The fine lines on this miniature statue model indicate the sections into which the figure will be divided for casting.

Many steps remain
The process of making a bronze statue begins with a clay model, Gion informed us. “From this, we make a rubber mold off the clay model’s surface. That rubber mold will go to a foundry, and they will make a wax casting of this piece, in several sections.”

It’ll probably be cast in about six or seven different pieces, he explained. The bronze will then be welded together, and the seams tooled away by a craftsman at the foundry. Finally, the “patina guy”, Jonathan Kuzma, will finish the statue with coloring, to bring out the statue’s features.

oe Rossi, the man who spearheaded the creation of the Portland Immigrant Statue, watches as Gion works.

Continuing working on the man’s face, Gion says, “I want it to be recognizable, and to look like an individual. But it also has to be capable of representing many different ethnic groups – waves of immigrants who came through here including Italians and Asians. It’s a bit of a trick to come up with a head that works, and doesn’t look like one ethnicity or another.”

The finished statue will be dedicated on October 1, when the Parkrose community celebrates its 100th birthday with a parade and other festivities.

To learn more about the Portland Immigrant Statue – and how you can help sponsor this “gift to Portland from Parkrose”, as Joe Rossi calls it – see their official website: CLICK HERE.

Parkrose Barn Bash returns July 9
As part of the Parkrose Centennial Celebration, the famous ‘Barn Bash’ returns to Rossi Farms.

Guests will get an all-you-can-eat BBQ dinner, enjoy live music and dancing and a Wild West Action Show (and no-host adult beverages) at this grand event for just $20. It’s for adults, 21 and over – you’ll need proof of age at the gate. It runs from 6:00 p.m. until midnight at Rossi Farms, 3839 NE 122nd Avenue. For more information, contact Amelia Salvador at

© 2011 David F. Ashton ~ East Portland News

Comments are closed.

© 2005-2024 David F. Ashton East PDX News™. All Rights Reserved.