Stan Mullins' statue of UGA Heisman Trophy Winner Herschel Walker at the Georgia Sports Hall of Fame in Macon
Athens-based Stan Mullins with his sculpture of Heisman Trophy winner Herschel Walker.

Immediately after the University of Georgia’s football team captured the Rose Bowl championship in an overtime thriller New Year’s Day, their coach Kirby Smart could only exclaim to the interviewers “These kids believed. They never stopped chopping wood, and they just kept to the main thing, the main thing.”

Soon afterwards, when Global Atlanta asked Athens, Ga.-based Stan Mullins about his career as an artist with projects which have taken him around the world, he said that the best he could do to explain himself was echo Coach Smart’s refrain of “keeping to the main thing, the main thing.”

For Mr. Mullins the “main thing” these days is making a model of Tomochichi, chief of the Yamacraw Indians, who served as a mediator between the native population and the new English settlers during the first years of Georgia’s settlement.

His statue is to be located at the Rodney Cook Sr. Park which is to replace the Mims Park in Vine City behind the Mercedes Benz Stadium where UGA is to face the University of Alabama team in the College Football National Championship on Jan. 8. The new park is to honor Atlantans involved in the Civil Rights movement.

Art and sports are closely tied together, according to Mr. Mullins, to the extent that they both reveal talent and inspire achievement.

Sketching is his version of “chopping wood,” he added, tracing his childhood back to when his family was based in Alexandria, Va. At age 12 he would take the metro in Washington to the Corcoran Gallery of Art and fill a sketch book with his impressions of what he saw. It was then “when I first realized the true power of art and how I could use my talent to inspire others,” he said.

But it was during his years at the University of Georgia in Athens that he committed himself to seriously developing this talent, eventually earning a master’s of fine arts degree from the Lamar Dodd School of Art.

He especially credits his time at UGA’s campus in the Italian city of Cortona for exposing him to the works of not only the great Renaissance painters but those who also could sculpt as well including Michelangelo and Leonardo.

With a degree in hand, he had to decide where to settle down, choosing out of necessity Athens, Ga., over the European capitals of either Paris or Rome. Although ensconced in northeast Georgia, he nevertheless felt ready and well prepared to unleash a career with the same determination as any of the Renaissance masters.

Eventually he became so enamored with Athens, he wrote a love letter to it in which he describes his struggles there, but then gives thanks to his muse saying “your security was at times a blanket of comfort and a smothering of creativity,” leading to petty quarrels as in any relationship. These were resolved, he adds, when he was able “to risk and reach past your city limits to push beyond my boundaries.”

Focused on his future, he established a studio in an abandoned cotton-seed warehouse, which he acknowledges in his letter, allowed him “to soar to new heights,” and has become famous for its social gatherings and special events as well as providing a steady ground for whenever he returns from his meanderings around the world.

With his worldly perspective, he not only managed to ply his trade globally — continuing to “chop wood” if you will — but also challenge his artistry more fully by indulging in painting and then sculpture.

It turned out that there was no better way to manifest the association of art and sports than to create a statue of UGA’s legendary coach Vince Dooley being hoisted after a big win.

The sculpture was unveiled during a ceremony in front of the Vince Dooley Athletic Complex on the South Campus attended by then Gov. Sonny Perdue, who graduated from UGA’s veterinary school and is the current U.S. agriculture secretary.

Former chairman of the Augusta National Golf Club, Billy Payne, who received both undergraduate and law degrees at the university and went on to head the Atlanta Committee for the Olympic Games, also attended.

Believers in UGA’s mascot Bulldog now touch the foot of Mr. Dooley’s statue much the way that Catholics at St. Peter’s Basilica in the Vatican devotedly touch the foot of a statute of St. Peter.

Statue of Coach Vince Dooley being lifted by UGA players.

Mr. Mullins also can point to his statue of former Georgia running back Herschel Walker in Macon as another example of his inclination to link his artistry with sports.

Mr. Walker, a Wrightsville native, played football at the University of Georgia from 1980 to 1982 and won the Heisman Trophy in his final season. The two-ton statue is temporarily on display at the Georgia Sports Hall of Fame. Mr. Mullins hopes that some day it may grace one of the corners of Sanford Field on the UGA campus.

As if he could anticipate the excitement and drama surrounding the upcoming UGA-Alabama game, Mr. Mullins has already sculpted small clay models of UGA Heisman winners Frank Sinkwich and Charley Trippi.

His vision is to have fully realized statues of these Heisman winners like that of Mr. Walker gracing three corners of Stanford Field with a huge block of Carrara Italian marble at the fourth corner just waiting for another recipient to be named — a likely possibility to take place soon in view of the current UGA team’s exploits.

Although out-of-state, Mr. Mullins’ massive “Ashes to Glory” sculpture in Huntington, W.V., of three over-life-sized bronze bison, each weighing more than two tons on 50 tons of granite pedestals honoring Marshall University’s “Thundering Herd” football team is yet another example of his association of art and sports.

Another theme in Mr. Mullin’s creative life also is revealed in the way that this work comes to life. Through mutual friends he met Red Dawson, a former assistant coach for Marshall University, who stopped by his studio and saw a small clay model of a buffalo, which he liked and sparked his efforts to find support for the Marshall University project in honor of the members of the team that died in a 1970 plane crash.

Many of Mr. Mullins’ works have been in response to chance encounters. For instance, the Vince Dooley statue resulted from a casual conversation he had one night in downtown Athens.

His friendship with his former UGA fraternity brother, Christopher Smith, a Macon attorney and Georgia’s honorary consul of Denmark, also has prompted artworks, though in these cases paintings not sculptures.

Mr Smith encouraged him to paint a portrait of Denmark’s Crown Prince Mary, which has been displayed around the state as the two friends have underscored their roles as cultural and commercial ambassadors promoting Denmark’s investment in the state and the ties binding Georgia to that country.

Then during a casual discussion at the Pulaski Heights barbecue in Athens, Mr. Smith noted that Mr. Mullins uses a dragon as his logo in keeping with the 1964 year of his birth, which according to Chinese traditions marks the “Year of the Dragon.”

“Why not consider painting the Dragon queen of Bhutan?” Mr. Smith suggested, providing enough of a prod to send Mr. Mullins on a mission to learn as much as he could about Bhutanese culture and art.

The result was his portrait of 27-year-old ‘Her Majesty Queen Jetsun Pema,” and a molten desire to visit the landlocked country in South Asia, located in the Eastern Himalayas. His motivation was not so much athletics this time as it was his inspiration to experience and record another culture.

Stan Mullins in Bhutan

But there was no questioning his seriousness including a heightened level of motivation reflected daily these days by the UGA footballers on their way to the Mercedes Benz stadium for the big game against Alabama on Monday.

Assuming once again the role of a goodwill ambassador, Mr. Mullins donated the portrait to the Bhutanese government. Since the U.S. does not have official diplomatic ties with Bhutan, he had to rely on the resources of his friend Mr. Smith, who put him in touch with Palden Dorji, Denmark’s honorary consul general in Bhutan who provided the opening for the painting to be shipped to the kingdom and received by its government.

Obviously Mr. Mullins had more in mind than merely sending his portrait to Bhutan, and wanted to explore the country that is known for its natural beauty and having coined the cultural and economic measurement of “gross national happiness.”

With the assistance of Ashi Kendum Dorji, the owner of Chhundu Travel and Tours, Mr. Mullins arrived in Bhutan’s capital, Thimphu, this past fall. Ever the cultural diplomat he took with him a key to the city of Athens which he obtained from Athens-Clark County Mayor Nancy Denson and for further goodwill a drawing of Chief Tomochichi, which he handed over to the proper authorities.

Mr. Mullins returned with a sketch book full of drawings, of course, and a notebook full of the names of a host of new Bhutanese friends.

To celebrate his return, Mr. Smith’s law firm and the Athens-based Rigmarole Digital Marketing Agency co-hosted a Bhutanese National Day Party held in December including an eclectic crowd of academicians, artists, and businesspeople who were introduced to Bhutanese culture.

For Mr. Mullins, this latest adventure was just another example of “chopping wood,” and keeping focused on “the main thing, the main thing” in Coach Smart’s very words.

Go Dawgs!

Mr. Mullins may be reached  by email at stanarts@aol.com