Sculpting a Tradition

15_kovatch-640PROUD MEMORIAL  — Standing proud behind the new memorial for the 101st Airborne Division in Fort Campbell, Ky., is from the left Ryan Kovatch, Lt. Col. Taylor, Capt. Bonnie Kovatch and Bob Kovatch. Photo courtesy of Bob Kovatch


By I-O Intern Melissa Barringer

Bob Kovatch started his first whittling project with nothing more than a sharpened Swiss Army Knife. After 14 years of experience, this past May, a bronze sculpture handmade by Bob, was accepted to be a part of a memorial for the 101st Airborne Division in Fort Campbell, Ky.

The 101st Airborne Division houses two Special Operation Command units and is the only Air Assault Division in the world. Building a new memorial had been a goal for the division for years.

Bob’s son, Ryan, is a landscape architect who submitted a design for the project after Ryan’s wife, Capt. Bonnie Kovatch, ended a tour in Afghanistan and moved to the 101st Airborne Division. Bob contributed to the design with the bronze piece on top of the pedestal of helicopter rotors designed by Ryan to represent the six segments of the airborne division.


“I did a lot of research on the 101st Airborne’s history and tradition,” says Bob, who received inspiration for his design based on his research of division.


The design is a strong reflection of the history of the airborne division. In the middle rides a cavalry soldier clad in the original uniform while he sits on an original Mclaren saddle and saddle blanket.

“I tried to keep it very authentic,” says Bob who focused on the smallest details even down to the build and features of the horse.

Keeping with the authentic theme, the blunt ended spur, which arches behind the soldier, was modeled after the spurs used by the cavalry men. Spreading out on both sides of the spur are a pair of wings posed in a flight position. Inspired by the helicopters used by the division Bob felt the wings “should be powerful and taking off.”

After over 350 hours of work and a trip to Kentucky, Bob’s piece stands proud. “It was an amazing experience,” says Bob who felt fortunate to be involved with the tradition of the division.

As he reflects on his project, Bob recalls the best part of the process was being able to collaborate on the design with his son as well as taking part and contributing with the memorial.

Even as this project has come to an end, Bob has already started whittling figurines to a new chess set that stand on his worktable. Each chess set takes anywhere from 1,000 to 1,200 hours of labor to create from start to finish.

Although he has a couple of bronze ideas in the works, his favorite medium to work with is wood. “With wood you take everything away you don’t want,” says Bob, “with clay you add everything to it. It’s a completely different process.”

If you are interested in seeing some of Bob’s work, figurines can be seen on display at his restaurant, The Lighthouse in Valier. Bob also recently displayed some of his work at the Jay Contway and Friends Art Show this past March and hopes to continue contributing to the show in the future.