The making of a trophy is a detailed and arduous task as I learned after visiting the foundry to speak with Bonham Trophy artist Jeff Gottfried. Mr. Gottfried received notice in December of 2013 that Governors Rick Perry of Texas and Nikki Haley of South Carolina were interested in creating a trophy to be given to the annual winner of the Texas A&M and University of South Carolina game. Although no expert in college football, Gottfried had extensive experience in western bronze sculpture art, making him the perfect candidate for the job.
The work began with research, extensive and detailed research at that. From the type of horse Bonham would have been riding to the type of rifle he would have been carrying, Gottfried sifted through books of pre – Civil War history, nailing down every detail he needed to portray in his art.
The physical work began with a clay pinch sculpture, creating a basic framework for the bronze sculpture. Gottfried then made a quick trip to meet with Governor Perry, presenting his preliminary idea to the governor. According to Gottfried, Governor Perry was much more interested in the history of the trophy than the football game for which the trophy was being created. Referencing Texas history books in his office, the governor read excerpts about the South Carolinian hero who fought at the Alamo.
After receiving the go-ahead from Governor Perry, the nine step process of creating the sculpture began. A wax version of the trophy was then carved exactly according to the researched details Gottfried had gathered earlier in the year. After he was satisfied with the wax mold, the mold was covered with a material that can withstand extreme heat, which was then placed in an oven to simultaneously melt all the wax out of the mold while hardening the material.
Once the new mold cooled, it was filled with molten bronze. Simply standing in the room where the bronze was poured was enough for me. I wanted to go stand in a refrigerator to cool-off.
Welders worked to put together the final pieces of the sculpture. The reins on the horse were the main priority at this station. Although the trophy was hollow, it certainly still weighed quite a bit. After the trophy was completely put together, it was sprayed multiple times to give it the luster and shine that satisfied the artist.
While at the foundry, Gottfried debated which type of base belonged with the trophy. He debated between a short, stubby base, a long, slender base and a base that was medium sized. Interesting to me was his desire to know what I thought about the base. Looking at the three wooden models, with no experience in art, I thought the medium sized base looked best, giving the actual sculpture the attention it deserved.
We left the foundry that day amazed at the amount of work it took to build a sculpture and with the work almost completed. Soon we would meet again at the Governor’s Mansion to show Governor Perry the final product.
Security and governor aides surrounded us as we walked through metal detectors prior to entering the property of the governor. An aide got a message that the governor was ready for us, so we made the nervous walk up to the historic Governor’s Mansion. We were met at the door by the governor himself, wearing military style cargo pants, work boots and a Texas A&M polo. He welcomed us in and offered us water and food. Paintings of Crockett, Travis and other historical Texas figures adorned the walls. Perry was quick to make the conversation about us, wanting to know how the movie was coming along.
We set up cameras and sound as Gottfried, his family and the family of the gallery owner walked in behind us. The trophy, secured by bubble wrap and blankets, was placed on a table in the center of the room, soon to be unveiled for the first time. The trophy in all it’s glory was revealed: beautiful, triumphant and proud, just like the state for which Bonham gave his life. Gottfried read aloud the inscription, leaving out his name own as he read. Perry insisted on him starting over to make sure the artist received the recognition with our small group that he deserved. The inscription importantly reminded us of the sacrifice Bonham made.
Perry had us all sit down as he read us excerpts from Texas history books that detailed Bonham’s courageous ride into the Alamo. After being told not to go, the Alamo hero reared up on his horse and said, “I am a man of my word. I will deliver my message or die trying!” This is the exact moment depicted in the sculpture.
“The Bonham Trophy represents the bond forged by a son of South Carolina who gave his life for Texas. The trophy, awarded each year to the winner of the Southeastern Conference Football Game between Texas A&M and the University of South Carolina, will be an eternal reminder of this bond.
James Butler Bonham
A University of South Carolina – educated lawyer was born February 20, 1807 in the Edgefield District that is now Salada County, S.C.
On March 3, 1836, during the siege of the Alamo, Bonham, a childhood friend of Col. Travis, braved intense fire from enemy troops to return to the Alamo and deliver the message that reinforcements would not make it in time. Despite urging from General Houston to remain, Bonham explained he was a “man of his word” and compelled to return to his comrades at the Alamo. Three days after his return, the Alamo fell and Bonham fell at his post along with the rest of the defenders in the name of Liberty and Freedom.
Dedicated August 28, 2014
This trophy was initiated in 2014 by Governors Rick Perry of Texas and Nikki Haley of South Carolina as a symbol of the friendly competition between the two states exemplifying both the success it brings to each state and the productivity it adds to benefit the entire country.”
Texas A&M faces South Carolina on August 28 at at Williams Brice Stadium in Columbia, South Carolina, as the first game featured on the new SEC Network. The first meeting on the football field for the two schools will feature a trophy in honor and remembrance of Alamo hero, James Butler Bonham, a South Carolinian who fought alongside his Texan brothers at the Battle of the Alamo.
The friendly competition on the field represents a maturing of rivalries for Texas A&M. Historically, the Aggies have looked forward to the Thanksgiving game against the Longhorns of the University of Texas. Since the controversial inception of the Longhorn Network and the concurrent departure of the Aggies for the Southeastern Conference, the Thanksgiving Day game has been replaced by a clash between Louisiana State University and Texas A&M.
The Southeastern Conference boasts the strongest bond between a conference in all of college football and perhaps in all of sports. Although all members are rivals on the field, the SEC supports fellow members when they face outside opposition. The states of Texas and South Carolina set this standard in the fight for Texas independence when Bonham stood beside Texans in the fight against Santa Ana and the Mexican military.
The trophy reminds the two states and our nation of a brave and selfless individual who gave his life for freedom. As Texas A&M and South Carolina battle on the football field, it’s important to remember the individuals who have given their lives in the defense of our country. James Butler Bonham set an example as Texas fought for it’s independence that would be followed by thousands of individuals across the spectrum of the history of the United States.
South Carolina is ranked ninth and Texas A&M is ranked twenty first in the AP preseason college football poll.