Local sculptor created giant panthers for Carolina team stadium
Special to The Union
Whether it’s to watch an exciting collision between the Carolina Panthers and the Denver Broncos, to witness the spectacle that is the halftime show, or to enjoy a myriad of unique commercials, audiences nationwide will be glued to their television sets for the Super Bowl. While neither team competing for the Vince Lombardi trophy this year has much local appeal, the connection to the Panthers for one Nevada County resident stretches back to their inception.
Todd Andrews, a sculptor who has lived in the area for many years, is known locally for crafting the Gentle Giant sculpture that sits in front of the Nevada County fairgrounds. The 44-foot-long draft horse is one of the many commissions Andrews has completed during his career.
Andrews’ most famous work, however, resides at Bank of America Stadium in Charlotte, N.C. The home of the Panthers since 1996, one of the stadium’s most well-liked design features are the six larger-than-life bronze panther statues that greet visitors as they walk in.
At 22 feet each, the panther sculptures are large and intimidating, and help provide the team with an identity. The pieces of art were installed in 1996 to coincide with the opening of the building, then known as Ericson Stadium. They’re the vision and hard work of Andrews, whose path to creating them was an unlikely one.
“There was a competition with over 100 sculptures from all over the world. One of the owners (of the Panthers) saw one of my sculptures and encouraged me to enter the competition. So I went in, and on the airplane I carved a little panther out of wax,” said Andrews. “It was on my dime, so if nothing happened I was out all the money I had spent on the plane ticket, hotels and rental cars. But I figured it was worth the effort.”
When he arrived in North Carolina, Andrews said he realized that he didn’t own a suit. With nothing formal to wear he decided to be himself, and donned cowboy boots and a Western shirt instead. It’s part of the reason, he now says, that he won the job.
“I was so amped up on coffee and excitement. I had also just seen ‘The Mask’ with Jim Carey, so I adopted this attitude of ‘somebody stop me!’ They…really grilled me with the engineering and the technical questions; I’ve got a background with engineering, so I could answer all their questions and tell them I could make something that was safe and durable. I went out of there feeling pretty good, but I looked in the hall and some of the best sculptors in the country were sitting there waiting for their turn,” he said.
“I got back to my hotel and the (phone) light was flashing and it was Jon Richardson, the son of the founder of the Panthers (Jerry Richardson). He had called me and asked if I could come back so they could talk to me. I wasn’t expecting to hear back from them for a week. So I came back, and he told me that if I would use a foundry in Lander, Wyoming, then I got the job,” he added.
The sculptures needed to be done in a timely manner in order to be ready for the stadium unveiling, but Andrews had no intention of declining the opportunity. The whole process, which saw Andrews fly back and forth between Wyoming and California in a “little death-trap airplane,” took him six months in total.
“It’s always hectic when you’re doing a big job like that. It’s the name of the game. We were cranking, and we made it happen, but it was an ordeal by fire,” he said.
The sculptures were a success — so much so that the Panthers brought Andrews back to sculpt the likeness of former linebacker Sam Mills, who had been inducted into the Carolina Panthers Hall of Honor.
Through it all, Andrews has maintained a close relationship with the Panthers. When he originally signed on to complete the panther commission, Andrews asked that the organization send him Super Bowl tickets in the event that they made it that far. It’s a request they’ve honored twice, once for Super Bowl XXXVIII and now for Super Bowl 50. It’s not hard to guess who Andrews will be pulling for on Sunday.
“I’m always rooting for the Panthers. That’s my team for sure. They’ve been really good to me and they’ve treated me so well,” he said. “I go back there and I feel like royalty; they’re great people, great clients, and I can’t speak highly enough about them as individuals.”
Spencer Kellar is a freelance writer living in Nevada City; he can be reached at email@example.com.
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