MERCED -- The sculptor who crafted a bronze memorial marking one of the city's most notorious crimes says she felt a special presence while she worked to depict the young Stephen Stayner.
"I feel divinely guided when I'm inspired by a project and I really felt a presence on this one," said Hidden Valley Lake sculptor Paula Slater.
She was commissioned to create the sculpture for the Steven Stayner and Missing Children's Memorial in Merced. That statue was unveiled at a ceremony in Applegate Park on Saturday.
Steven Stayner, a Merced youth who was abducted in 1972, spent eight years in captivity until his kidnapper abducted 5-year-old Timothy White. Stayner decided to save Timmy from the abuse he had suffered, and the two escaped.
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Stayner returned to Merced to marry and start a family, becoming a champion for the cause of missing children until his death in a 1989 motorcycle accident at the age of 24. White died an untimely death earlier this year of an apparent pulmonary embolism at the age of 35.
The bronze statue depicts young Timmy looking up at a teenage Steven. Timmy takes his hand to set out on the dark road from the remote home where the children were held. The rest is spine-chilling history, made famous by exhaustive media coverage, books and a film in 1989, "I Know My First Name Is Steven," based on a book of the same name.
"I was deeply touched by that film and always remembered it," said Slater.
Slater began as a classically trained painter but switched to sculpture 17 years ago. Shortly thereafter, the commissions started rolling in. Slater has more than 40 sculptures of political and historical figures around the country and abroad.
"When I first heard about this project I felt drawn to it," she said. Slater applied for and won the commission.
Working entirely from photographs, Slater spent a few months sculpting the statue in clay. From there the clay model went to a foundry to be cast in bronze using techniques that have been employed by artists for thousands of years. The casting process takes about six months, during which Slater monitored each step, making sure no detail was lost along the way.
The final step is the patina, which gives the brassy bronze its deep rich color and variations. In the final step, the statue is coated in a protective wax, which when maintained keeps bronze from oxidizing, which turns the metal green.
A plaque bearing the names of other missing children in Merced County will later be added to the base of the statue.