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Ultimate Challenge by Edmond Shumpert Pays Tribute


Ultimate Challenge bronze sculpture by Edmond Shumpert.  This life-size statue, which has symbolized the Surf City California lifestyle for decades has been photographed hundreds of thousands. Seen on Pacific Coast Highway at Huntington Street, it includes a bare surfer riding a board and wave. The unique sculpture is one of two creations from Edmond Shumpert, formerly a California artist who lives in Mississippi now.

Ultimate Challenge was sculpted in Italy in 1970, according to Shumpert, who said it was bronze cast and installed in 1973. Shumpert previously had cast a bronze bust of Duke Kahanamoku that sat at the Huntington Beach Pier. The bust was later placed in the International Surfing Museum where it is on permanent exhibit now. "They have the head tilted too far back, Shumpert believes, after seeing a photo of its Surf Museum placement.

"It required 400 pounds of bronze ingots and took more than 1,000 hours to complete," said the Mississippi native, who spent most of his career in California.

An award-winning artist, his work is displayed at Disney World among many other notable public venues. His signature is a fearless, yet fluid quality, and he has a propensity for depicting his subjects engaged in some athletic activity.

Born in West Point, Shumpert, 61, returned to Mississippi four years ago after tiring of the mounting traffic and congestion on the West Coast.

"It was actually a lot more than just the traffic," he clarified.

"It had gotten to the point you couldn't move! You go the beach and there are two million people already there."

He purchased a country home near family members in Eupora, including his mother, Opal Baldwin, and built a 20-by-40 metal building to serve as his sculpting studio and foundry. The 16-foot ceiling enables Shumpert to produce life-sized sculpture along with smaller pieces he turns out at the rate of 15-20 a year.

Though sculpture is his bread and butter, he has a few hobbies to turn to when he feels the need for a break. As a hobby, he crafts bows for archery from bodark trees, and restores a few vintage automobiles from time to time.

The only traffic he fights today is the herd of deer that traverse his property in rural Webster County.

Shumpert and his Russian-born wife, Alisa, say the slower pace of life in the South is agreeing with them and there seems to be more time to devote to his projects.

The process of creating a full-blown sculpture is a painstaking proposition, requiring many steps, and great patience. He detailed the process that sounds daunting to those unacquainted with the art form.

"I make a steel skeleton that looks like a stick figure in the desired pose, then wrap it completely with burlap and plaster. It will be built up with clay, and all the details sculpted and finished," explained Shumpert. "This is called the sculpture model."

The molding is done by sectioning this model into parts and making silicon rubber molds. Melted wax is poured both in and out until a one-eighth-inch hollow copy is formed in the molds.

He said the wax copies are removed, and wax tubes and a wax funnel are put on each. They are in turn covered inside and out with ceramic mold material.

"The result is that bronze turns out hollow too. The bronze casting is done by baking the ceramic molds in a kiln at 1,650 degrees for an hour and thirty minutes ... just before the bronze is melted in a furnace and poured into the molds.

To finish the bronze, all parts are removed from the ceramic molds, cleaned and sandblasted. Finally, all the parts are welded together, filed, sanded and finished. This is not for the inpatient.

Shumpert studied at the prestigious Art Center School in Los Angeles and spent four years as a medical illustrator at the Brain Research Institute at UCLA. There he studied muscle structure to familiarize himself with the human anatomy in preparation for his profession as a sculptor.

The effort paid off and today he has become an expert of sorts on sculpting subjects with an athletic theme.

Among his subjects in the past were Johnny Weissmuller, the two-time Olympic swimming champion who later played Tarzan in 12 movies, and Olympic swimmer and gold medal winner Duke Kahanamoku.

Shumpert has sculpted native Americans including Sitting Bull and a bronze surfing scene that is now a landmark on California's Huntington Beach.

Shumpert's current project is another water scene that will be erected along the East Coast in Maryland.

While he works with other materials, including marble and plaster, bronze has become Shumpert's forte. He can be reached at 662-258-8518.