Oct. 15, 2003
The long-anticipated bronze sculpture by Fritz White depicts a spear-brandishing Seminole astride a rearing horse, designed to capture the indomitable spirit of the Seminole people and those who have adopted that spirit as a symbol for their university.
The massive structure, including its granite-covered pedestal-base, will stand approximately 31 feet from ground level to the tip of the spear, about the height of a three-story building. At sunset the night before each home game, the spear will be ignited and burn until sunrise on the morning after the game.
"Unconquered" rises above the Williams Family Plaza at the north end of Langford Green outside the south entrance to Doak S. Campbell Stadium.
While casual observers probably will identify the image with FSU's living symbols, Renegade and Osceola, the statue embraces and represents a much broader concept, according to Stephen Reilly, the Tallahassee attorney and FSU graduate who has spearheaded the decade-long project from conception to fruition.
"Bill Durham's creation of Renegade and Osceola, which adds such an impact to our home football games, was obviously the inspiration behind this statue," Reilly said. "However, the 'Unconquered' statue more broadly celebrates the human spirit that will not be defeated. This statue does not depict any particular person or event. Rather, it symbolically portrays the unconquered spirit of the Seminole people of the nineteenth century and the timeless legacy of that spirit that continues to burn bright into the future."
A football trip to Notre Dame in 1993 provided Reilly's inspiration for the project. He watched as the Fighting Irish band gave a concert on the steps of Bond Hall, and then led the assembled fans, Pied-Piper-like, across the campus to the stadium.
The pageantry struck a chord in Reilly.
"It was a neat thing to see, and I thought that since Florida State has one of the greatest bands in America, we might find a similar way to highlight it. Although we were building this huge university center complex, with a lot of detailed planning for parking, I felt some green space was needed that could double as a venue for pre-game pageants and other special events year-round."
As the idea developed, Reilly imagined a statue, inspired by FSU symbols Renegade and Osceola and patterned after the statue of Andrew Jackson in New Orleans' Jackson Square. In early 1994 he took his concept to new FSU President Sandy D'Alemberte, who shared the vision and threw his support to the project.
In June 1995, a committee was formed with Reilly as its chairman. One of his first tasks was to find money.
"President D'Alemberte told me: 'You can't proceed with this project on a wish and a promise. You must have the money in the bank,'" Reilly said. "Fortunately, it was never an issue. I made one presentation to one person, George Langford. He shared the vision and endowed the project for up to $1 million."
With the statue as his committee's focus, Reilly remained involved with the planning and development of Langford Green, from the size of the green space.
"It almost became Langford Strip" -- to the landscaping and design of various elements, such as the terraced performance stage and the curved wall at the south entrance. "We wanted it to be just the right height and design to provide an impressive entrance that affords an unobstructed view of the statue," he said. "The architects, Barnett and Fronczak, really did a good job on this project.
"Meanwhile, Langford Green's largest structure would raise its biggest issues. Members of the Blue Ribbon Committee chaired by Reilly, include Ann Bowden, Grace Dansby, Bill Durham, James Joanos, Doug Mannheimer, Anthony Paredes, Jack Skelding, Jr. and Beverly Spencer. After resolving several issues, the committee commenced an international search for a sculptor. The horse and rider image necessarily focused the search among artists whose work dealt primarily with equestrian and Native American themes.
Out of 51 who were considered, 16 semi-finalists were chosen, then three finalists. When the final selection was made early in 1998, the work, and the problems, began.
"From the beginning it was understood that FSU would have absolute ownership and control of the image and all associated properties," Reilly said. "All sixteen semi-finalists signed documents to that effect, but after two years of work, the original sculptor decided otherwise.
"Ultimately, he refused to permit the university to maintain unfettered use and control of the statue's image," Reilly said.
"He didn't think we could go on without him, but in late 1999, we started all over again and made it work, even though we couldn't do some of the things in the same way."
Fritz White, 73, an Ohio native who lives in Loveland, Colorado, has an impressive array of work on similar subjects. Unlike his predecessor, he was eager to cooperate with the committee and its requirements.
"Among the three finalists, Fritz White probably wanted to do this project more than the other two," Reilly said. "He has done a magnificent job, creating a much bolder image than we had originally."
After the unveiling, Reilly hopes to cut down on the time he has spent on the project, the countless hours, the trips to observe the work done by sculptor White and Tom O'Gorman's Bronze Services of Loveland, the consultations with architects and with engineers on structural stability, wind loads and gas conduits.
"My wife, Donna, will be glad when the project is completed, although as an FSU graduate, she gave me a lot of support," Reilly said. "And, this couldn't have been accomplished without the efforts of the Seminole Boosters, particularly Mary Pat Desloge who provided substantial secretarial support for all these years."
Reilly says he also is ready for the project to be finished, but one important task remains.
There are still 64 slabs of granite, quarried in Saudi Arabia, then cut and fabricated in Italy, which will be delivered and installed by an Atlanta firm early next year. Carved into the north and south faces of the granite-covered pedestal will be the word "Unconquered."
Seminole Boosters President Andy Miller knows the final details will be handled efficiently.
"If you want a job done right, give it to Steve Reilly. He's the most tenacious, detail-oriented person I've ever met," Miller said. "He has done an outstanding job on this project and deserves every credit we can give him."
Meanwhile, Reilly prepares himself for another South Bend trip to see the Seminoles play Notre Dame. Who knows what might inspire him this time.