Harry Weber works on bronze bust of Pele

2011 Sport Artist of the Year Harry Weber works on bronze bust of Pele for Gabon’s new soccer stadium, which is hosting the African Cup in February.

The United States Sports Academy is teaming up with Gabon to evaluate the country and develop a master plan to train its coaches and teachers, as well as build a Sports Academy.

But that’s not all. The university is also working with Gabon on three major art projects for its new 40,000-seat stadium in Libreville. That’s because Gabon is scheduled in February to host the African Cup of Nations—the soccer championships of Africa.

The artworks for the major tournament include:

  • A bronze bust depicting a smiling Pelé, one of the greatest soccer players of all time, that is being sculpted by Harry Weber. Weber is the Academy’s 2011 Sport Artist of the Year.
  • Sergey Eylanbekov, the 2004 Sport Artist of the Year, is creating a multi-dimensional acrylic sculpture to serve as the trophy for the country that wins the African Cup title. It will feature Pelé executing his famous bicycle kick.
  • Finally, the Academy has obtained a print depicting Pelé by painter Stephen Holland, the 1993 Sport Artist of the Year. This piece is signed by Pelé and will be displayed in the Pelé Room at the VIP entrance to the new stadium.

Currently, it is planned for the President of Gabon, Ali Bongo, who serves as the United Nation’s Security Council chairman, to unveil the bronze Pelé bust as part of the opening of the African Cup.

Weber, whose famous sports sculptures are prominent features at 12 different professional and amateur stadiums in the United States, worked on this bust day and night to produce a model of it in three days. The St. Louis-based sculptor says he was flattered to do the important project. A duplicate of the bronze will be displayed in the Academy’s American Sport Art Museum and Archives (ASAMA), the largest collection of sport art in the world with more than 2,000 pieces.

Pele by Stephen Holland

Stephen Holland, a 1993 Sport Artist of the Year, painted this rendering of Pele, one of the greatest soccer players of all time.

“What a great honor this is,” Weber says. “If there is a chance for me to do more work for the country of Gabon, I would, of course, be very enthusiastic.”

Academy President and CEO Dr. Thomas P. Rosandich says the Pelé sculpture is “magnificent.” “Weber has done a Herculean job on Pelé’s bust,” he said. “It is fabulous and few artists could have done this in such a tight timeframe. Harry did not go to bed, understanding the importance of the project given his commitment to having it finished as a bronze for the opening of the African Cup.”

All of the works of art resulted from the Academy’s recent major contract with Gabon to help develop its sports programs. The agreement with the west central African nation includes doing a sports study in that country, building a Sports Academy, staffing the program with the faculty necessary to train Gabon’s sports administrators, coaches and athletes, and writing a facility study on the legacy of the new stadium. During its 40-year history as a university focused on sports education, the Academy has served more than 60 countries across the globe.

“It is a great honor and responsibility to help Gabon establish its sports program,” Dr. Rosandich said. “Because of our commitment to sports art, we are also extremely excited about the pieces for the country’s new stadium that honor Pelé, the black pearl of Brazil. He is arguably the best soccer player ever.”