Atascadero artist Mark Greenaway carefully shaved tiny rolls of wax from a delicately sculpted face of a statue, trying to give more detail to the nearly finished piece.
“I realized I like the texture I was getting using this tool,” he said, motioning to a dental instrument as he worked Tuesday. “I’ve used toothpicks, dental tools, a nail — anything that was near me that I thought would get the job done.”
When finished, the statue will be cast in bronze to become a 6-foot likeness of the late Charles Paddock, the San Luis Obispo County park ranger who founded Atascadero’s Charles Paddock Zoo in 1955 when he caught and kept an opossum while irrigating the grounds at Atascadero Lake Park.
That began Paddock’s collection of critters, which evolved into the accredited zoo facility the city operates at the same park.
The statue will be unveiled this summer during the city’s Fourth of July festival at Atascadero Lake Park. It will be the 60th anniversary of the zoo’s founding.
A group of local volunteers and the Military Order of the World Wars, Vandenberg Chapter, have been raising money for the statue since 2010, when the Atascadero City Council determined it could be permanently positioned at the zoo’s entrance. The goal was to raise $60,000, but Ward said donations have died down and they’re short about $27,000; more donations are being sought.
The statue will include a plaque honoring Paddock and his son, Michael Paddock, a U.S. Marine who died fighting in the Vietnam War and was awarded two Bronze Star Medals for Valor.
In addition to honoring both men, the statue is intended to start a new Atascadero tradition.
In the sculpture, a smiling Paddock with wrinkles around his eyes is holding his famous opossum — Cosmo Topper — who is positioned at a child’s height.
“So then the kids can rub his nose and make a wish,” said Atascadero resident Chuck Ward, one of the volunteers who is raising money for the project.
Development of the artwork began in November. Greenaway was commissioned to create the piece, which he started by molding Paddock’s likeness in an oil-based clay. He crafted the image using only six black and white photos of Paddock for inspiration.
“They were small, but the nice thing is there was a profile shot and a head-on shot, so I had all I needed there,” he said.
He also copied Paddock’s actual county park ranger shirt for the final piece.
After Greenaway’s clay model was complete, he brought it to Genesis Bronze, a foundry on Paso Robles’ east side that has the craftsmen to cast it.
Bronze casting is a lengthy process that includes many steps over several weeks and involves creating a rubber mold from the clay model and transitioning the sculpture to wax and, later, ceramic before it is cast in hot metal fired to about 2,000 degrees.
The Paddock statue is still in the wax stage.
“Our job is to re-create it, exactly as Mark made it,” foundry owner John Kemple said.
Greenaway fine-tuned certain details during the wax modeling step Tuesday — details he couldn’t create with the soft clay or that he decided to change, such as carving into the left hand to give the fingernails and hand bones more structure.
“His attention to detail is incredible,” Ward said as he watched. “A lot of bronze statues look great, but they don’t look like real people. This is going to look like a real person.”