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The bust will permanently be displayed in the Fowler Athletics Center following a dedication ceremony Tuesday, June 14. The bust will permanently be displayed in the Fowler Athletics Center following a dedication ceremony Tuesday, June 14.
 


Casting Coryell

Professor emeritus Jess Dominguez created a bronze bust of legendary Aztec football coach Don Coryell.
By Tobin Vaughn
 

As Jess Dominguez hammered away at the white ceramic encasing a cooling bronze mass, a familiar visage began to appear.

“It’s perfect,” said the avuncular professor emeritus of SDSU’s art department. “This is as good as it gets.”

Dominguez was working in the sculpture court of the university’s foundry.  On this late spring Saturday morning, he returned to complete the next step in his effort to craft the likeness of an Aztec legend.   

Just minutes before the ceramic chipping began, he and two assistants had maneuvered a glowing bucket of molten metal into position and poured the scorching contents into a mold Dominguez had made.  Then, removing the casing from the solidifying bronze to reveal the image he has just cast, the retired professor could see his process yielding a successful result.     

"You're always going to have little mistakes or little blemishes and so forth,” he said, “but this one is almost perfect.”  

I want to keep doing things for the university as long as I can contribute...and this one is very special.


The image emerging from the dust and ceramic shrapnel is unmistakable; it’s the face of Don Coryell.

“Everything I put down is there,” Dominguez assessed. He is pleased.

'This one is special'


An instructor of life modeling and 3-D design at SDSU for more than 25 years, Dominguez’s work can be seen all over campus.  The War Memorial at Aztec Green, the statue of President Black near the Old Quad and a relief at the Lipinsky Tower are all his creations.  He is volunteering his time and talent for the Coryell bust project.  

"I want to keep doing things for the university as long as I can contribute,” he said, “and this one is very special.”

With President Weber appropriating funds for materials, Dominguez went to work.  Early on, he said, the going was rough.

"I had a little bit of a problem with it,” he recalled. “I made it in wax and then I had a hot day and it just kind of tweaked enough so that I had to re-do it.  Once it's tweaked a little bit it's hard to get it back to the original shape, so it took me a couple of days to re-do it.”

To research his subject, the artist studied photos of Coryell from throughout his life.  But which coach should the sculptor portray – the young Coryell with most of his accomplishments still ahead or the seasoned veteran of decades of successful college and professional gridiron campaigns?

"I didn't want to make him look like he was real young because then nobody would recognize him,” Dominguez explained. “They'd say, 'Who's that?'

“Everybody said, 'All you have to do is put a little bit of a scowl on his face and those bushy eyebrows and, you know, have that intense look.' And I said, 'I don't want to do that, either, because it makes him look like he's just a grouch.’ So I kind of hit him in the middle before he got grouchy and after he was kind of established.  He still had a lot of hair and he was very pensive, thinking.”

Not a death mask

Dominguez said sculpture is intended to be more representational than literal.  It should capture a subject’s essence more than a literal likeness that, for example, a figure in a wax museum might represent.

“It’s not supposed to look like a death mask, it’s supposed to look like a sculpture with tool marks and imperfections,” he said.

Before Dominguez casts a final version of a sculpture he tries to have family members or someone close to the subject approve the work.  He said at first, some family members were concerned that the nose on the Coryell bust appeared to be too broad, but he referred them to photographs supporting the accuracy of his depiction.

“He was a boxer and he did have a broad nose because he probably got punched around a little bit,” Dominguez explained.  The family approved of the bust.  

"His daughter came by and she and her husband looked at it and they both said, 'Yeah, that looks like him,'” Dominguez said. “If people who are family members like it, then I know I did something right."

The public will soon be able to judge whether Dominguez did something right.  The Coryell bust will be mounted on a pedestal and permanently displayed in the Fowler Athletics Center following a dedication ceremony later this month.

 
Casting Coryell
Professor emeritus Jess Dominguez created a bronze bust of legendary Aztec football coach Don Coryell.
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