By Janae Fear, staff writer
THE LATE RYAN LESLIE is shown in 2010 holding a bronze model of James Oliver Curwood that he created with the dream of someday gifting a life-size version to the city of Owosso. That dream will soon come true thanks to his older brother Nathan Leslie. (Courtesy Photo)
The Owosso City Council unanimously gave support to a Curwood bronze statue project being completed by Nathan Leslie with the help of Rick Wheeler at the Monday, March 21 meeting. Nathan Leslie, who lives in North Carolina, but born and raised in Owosso, took over the project from his brother Ryan Leslie when he passed away in 2011. Ryan was a 2005 graduate of Corunna High School who went on to graduate from Kendell Art and Design School in Grand Rapids with a degree in furniture design.
According to Nathan, Ryan loved being outdoors and felt a kinship with writer and conservationist James Oliver Curwood. Ryan was an accomplished artist and it became a dream of his to create a life-size sculpture of Curwood to donate to the city. While researching Curwood for inspiration for the sculpture, Ryan came across the tale of the time Curwood purportedly was fishing with a small fly rod and caught a sunfish. While reeling in the sunfish, a large pike ate the sunfish and Curwood was able to pull the pike out of the water. This is the design that Ryan chose for his sculpture.
“About six years ago, my brother used up just about all the money he had to have a model of his sculpture done in bronze,” said Nathan. “Now, with the help of many donors, I am able to complete my brother’s dream of a full-size bronze sculpture of James Oliver Curwood.” Nathan and Wheeler have received approvals from Parks and Rec, the Owosso Historical Commission, Public Works and now the city council to move forward with completion of the plan. The statue is being completed by Carolina Bronze, a foundry located in North Carolina, and will weigh approximately 800 pounds once completed. The statue will be mounted to a six-inch by forty-inch piece of polished black granite and will be located just outside of Curwood Castle by the steps leading down to the river.
“I really want to say a big thank you to the Mayor and city council for their approval. Also to everyone that has donated to this cause and a very special thank you to Rick Wheeler for leading this project for the past five years, helping to make my brother’s dream, a reality. Rick has spent countless hours approaching donors and businesses, meeting with all of the right people to get us to this point,” said Nathan. Wheeler emphasized that there was no cost to the city as the project was completely funded with donations.
If everything stays on schedule, Nathan is hoping to have an unveiling of the statue during the Curwood Festival in June.