By STAN GROSSFELD | GLOBE STAFF | FEBRUARY 27, 2017
NEWTON — There is an 81⁄2-foot-tall bronze statue of Sandy Koufax towering above the shrubs in Robert Gaynor’s front yard. It is such an unusual spot that even the pigeons have not discovered it.
Gaynor, 77, is an unusual artist. He was a lawyer who didn’t start sculpting until he retired eight years ago. He says he never took an art class in his life.
It took him two years to lovingly create the 1,500-pound statue of his boyhood hero.
“I just sculpt for my own enjoyment,” he says with a twinkle in his eye. “To get up in the morning and have a cup of coffee and look at him, I appreciate him.”
Sculpting is a painstaking, tedious task. Gaynor studied photos of the Dodger Hall of Famer, then had a student model for him. Once completed, the work had to be sliced into sections — very stressful, says Gaynor — and shipped to a Utah foundry, where the mold was poured.
It cost a fortune to ship it back, he says.
“I probably should think of a cheaper hobby,” says Gaynor.
Gaynor had to rent a crane to install the sculpture, and that ruined the shrubs. When he finally got it in place, his wife was so annoyed with its position that she made him dig up the 5-foot- deep foundation and move it. A small price to pay, he says.
But now Gaynor is a tad worried, and not about his marriage. He hopes that Koufax, who is famously modest, approves of his work, which is starting to get notice.
“I hope he doesn’t make me take it down or move it inside,” he says. “I hope he likes it.” This story really begins in 1958.
The Dodgers had abandoned Brooklyn for Los Angeles. Koufax was just 22 and a .500 pitcher, his great years still ahead of him.
Gaynor was a multi-sport student-athlete at Belmont Hill. There was a high school football game scheduled on Yom Kippur, the Jewish Day of Atonement.
“The football captain that year was Jewish and went to the athletic director and asked if he could reschedule it,” says Gaynor. “And the AD said he couldn’t do it. The game was played, and the football captain played.
“I was the football captain.”
Gaynor always wished he’d been more outspoken about his beliefs.
“When you are at a school that’s predominantly non-Jewish,” he says, “you always feel kind of quiet about it.”
Years later, when Koufax famously sat out Game 1 of the 1965 World Series because it fell on Yom Kippur, Gaynor felt both proud and conflicted.
“Most kids growing up at that time looked at him as an idol, someone that had the courage of his convictions,” he says. “I always resented the fact that I didn’t stand up for my principles. I regretted it. I didn’t have the courage.”
Gaynor became a successful immigration lawyer for more than 40 years, and Koufax became arguably the greatest left-handed pitcher of all time until arthritis ended his career prematurely at the age of 30.
But it was good karma that changed Gaynor’s life. One day, sculptor Robert Shure — whose work includes a statue of Cy Young at the site of the Red Sox’ first home field in Boston, and the Ted Williams plaque at the tunnel’s entrance — came into his office.
“He was crying, and I said, ‘What happened?’” says Gaynor. “And he said, ‘I’m trying to bring in this sculptor from Japan and the case got turned down.’”
Gaynor went to work, and two months later, the sculptor had his papers. Shure asked for the bill.
“I said, ‘You don’t owe me anything. I’m happy to help you out,’” says Gaynor.
When Shure insisted on providing compensation Gaynor told him, “I’ll tell you what. When I retire, I’d like to learn how to sculpt.”
Nearly eight years later, Gaynor called Skylight Studios in Woburn.
“I was trying to sculpt my dog and I wasn’t doing a very good job with it,” he says. “I call him up. He said, ‘Where you been? Come up.’”
Shure mentored him and gave him studio space.
The sculpture of Axel, Gaynor’s 14-year-old boxer, was completed years later.
“I said, ‘I’m done,’” says Gaynor, “and he said, ‘No, no, no, you’ve got some talent. You better keep going.’”
Gaynor sculpted Flashy Bull, a 2006 Kentucky Derby horse of which he owned 1 percent (“an ear’s worth”), and put it in the yard. It measures 81⁄2 feet tall and 11 feet long and weighs a ton.
Gaynor’s wife fought him on this location, too. She didn’t want to be looking at Flashy Bull’s behind from the living room.
She also puts up with his eccentricities. Gaynor collects old transistor radios, well-worn baseball gloves, game-used bats, Life magazine covers, and saddles from around the world.
In sculpting, he prides himself on the details: the spikes on Koufax’s shoes, laces on the glove, stitches on the ball, and the top button of the jersey open.
The neighbors love it.
“I think it’s fantastic,” says one, Brita Carhart. “I think it looks lifelike. I love the pose and the intensity in the eyes.”
“I think the Koufax statue is quite dramatic,” he says. “It shows him in action, it’s not static, there’s a lot of motion to it. It came out great. It needs to be in a big open place. That would be good.”
Statues of players are common around the big leagues. In Boston, there’s Ted and Yaz and “The Teammates.” In Baltimore, Babe Ruth stands in his hometown. There’s Willie Mays in San Francisco, Stan Musial in St. Louis, Ernie Banks in Chicago, and Roberto Clemente in Pittsburgh. Yankee Stadium has Monument Park and Don Larsen throwing to Yogi Berra.
In Los Angeles, there are flower pots outside of Dodger Stadium.
But that’s changing. The Dodgers are dedicating a statue of Jackie Robinson in April.
“Why isn’t there a statue of Koufax anywhere?” says Gaynor. “That bothers me.” Apparently there are none.
“We are not aware of any Sandy Koufax statues,” said Baseball Hall of Fame director of communications Craig Muder in an e-mail.
Gaynor says he would be willing to donate the statue to the Dodgers for expenses only.
Janet Marie Smith, the mastermind who designed Camden Yards in Baltimore and renovated Fenway Park before taking her talents to the Dodgers, has seen photos of Gaynor’s Koufax statue.
“What an amazing piece!” wrote Smith, the Dodgers’ senior vice president of planning and development, to Gaynor in an e-mail.
“I am excited about discussing this with my colleagues here and will get back to you very soon.”
By Joel Brown | GLOBE CORRESPONDENT OCTOBER 15, 2013
NEWTON — A horse is a horse, of course, of course. But Robert Gaynor’s steed is something else.
Named Flashy Bull, this handsome thoroughbred stands 8 feet high and 11 feet long from nose to tail. It weighs a ton. And, despite the raised hoof and flared tail, it never moves.
Gaynor, 73, a retired attorney, created the bronze sculpture, which sits behind the hedge in his yard on a quiet corner not far off Centre Street in Newton.
Lots of people, of course, take up a hobby in retirement, and some produce beautiful works of art. But not like this.
“It’s very rare to see someone make something of this size just for his own benefit,” says Gaynor’s friend Robert Shure of Skylight Studios Inc. in Woburn.
What drives him?
“I don’t know,” Gaynor says. “You are actually creating something you can touch and feel. It means more to me than a painting, which is beautiful, but you can’t touch it like it’s alive.”
He has put years of work and an amount of money he doesn’t care to reveal into a hobby he says has its origins in his high school years at the private Belmont Hill School. While there, he — like all seniors — carved a small wooden relief, in his case a likeness of his then-pet boxer, Rex.
As retirement approached, he picked up where he left off.
He has spent much of the last decade shaping clay, first into a statue of another boxer, then reliefs of friends and family, and now the thoroughbred. His inspiration: He once owned a small share of the real-life Flashy Bull, who ran in the 2006 Kentucky Derby.
“It was kind of a major undertaking, but he really pulled it off,” said Shure. “It’s powerful. He did a nice job.”
Flashy Bull’s installation, in September, required a truck, a crane, and a different kind of harness. But first there was “a little brouhaha” about its placement, said Gaynor’s wife, Lynne. “He wanted it facing the street,” she said.
“Lynne didn’t want to look at the rear end,” he said. The bronze horse faces the house. They both laugh about it now.
On a recent afternoon, Gaynor’s neighbor Lauri Meizler was having a small business meeting at her house and brought her three colleagues over to see the sculpture.
“Look at the detail. I love it. I think it’s simply spectacular,” Meizler said. “He’s the most understated guy, and this big thing sneaks up on you.”
Gaynor grew up in Newton — just across the street, he said, in the house that is now Meizler’s — and followed his father’s footsteps into the law. He worked for 42 years primarily as an immigration attorney, helping people get green cards and citizenship. Among those he had helped was a studio employee Shure brought to him. Gaynor and Shure hit it off, and eventually Gaynor decided to accept Shure’s offer to help him get started.
“He came in, and he had kind of a natural talent for sculpting,” Shure said. “I showed him the process, helped him a little bit, and next thing you know he was making the dog and portraits of his family and a couple of friends.”
Gaynor began with a representation of Axel, a 70-plus-pound boxer that was with the family for 14 years. “He was a good guy,” said Gaynor. That took five years of Saturdays and was completed not long before the real Axel passed away. Now the bronze Axel sits patiently in a sitting room in the Gaynor home, wearing the real dog’s collar. The Gaynors’ latest boxer, a recent arrival named Archie, pads around the room oblivious of his predecessor.
Gaynor said he has always loved horses, too, and had clients among the jockeys at Suffolk Downs. In 2005, a friend persuaded him to go in on buying a race horse, Flashy Bull. Gaynor invested a few thousand dollars for a 1 percent stake, or “an ear,” as he puts it. Flashy Bull made it all the way to the Kentucky Derby in 2006, but finished 14th and was put out to stud not long thereafter. The Gaynors spent more on their Derby trip than they got out of the horse, he said, but they had a lot of fun.
Gaynor retired in 2008, and finished Axel not long after. Then he decided to immortalize Flashy Bull in bronze.
“He began with the small version of a horse, and then a bigger one, the 4-foot one,” Shure said. “And then he said that he wanted to do a full-size one. And I told him, I’ve got a corner of the studio free.”
Few people work in bronze this way anymore here, although it’s more common in Western art, Shure said.
“For two years he told me he was making me a present,” Lynne Gaynor said, “because he didn’t want me to get nervous about the size.”
The process is an arduous one, beginning with a wire and wood armature bulked out with plaster, over which the clay is layered. Shure typically takes months to complete a commission. For Gaynor, it was more than a year and a half of hitting the studio an average of four days a week. He would show off each bit of progress to Shure or one of his staff, and often as not they would tell him, “Do it over,” he said.
The worst part was when his carefully wrought clay sculpture was finally made into a mold, then sectioned for the journey to the foundry in Utah. “That was traumatic,” Gaynor admitted, the notion of all that work being cut to pieces and put on a truck.
Standing by the sculpture, just off his patio, he points out details like the racing shoes on the horse, with their different nailing. Two smaller bronze horses, preparatory studies, rest under cover in the basement; he hopes their two sons will each want one someday. He has given away a few of his bronzes, but he hasn’t sold one yet and hasn’t tried very hard.
“He’s following his dream, which everybody should do,” said Shure.
Gaynor is a man often gripped by enthusiasms. “I’m not all there,” he said cheerfully. The basement of the house contains shelves of 1950s radios, saddles given to him by grateful clients, a rack of baseball bats bearing names like Yastrzemski and Mantle. He’s working on a bust of his father now, but his next large bronze, already in the planning stages, will be a sports figure, although he’s not saying who.
In the meantime, Flashy Bull requires grooming, albeit a different kind than his real-life model. “He has to be waxed once a year because of acid rain,” Gaynor said.