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Artist tackles Unitas tribute

September 28, 2000

Artist tackles Unitas tribute



By STACEY DANZUSO / Staff Writer


Sculptor Frederick Kail is about to tackle what he believes will be the best project of his career so far.

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The former Hagerstown resident will create a 19-foot bronze statue of football legend Johnny Unitas that will be displayed outside PSINet Stadium in Baltimore, hopefully in time for the Ravens' 2002 season.

Kail, a Lutherville, Md., resident, has a lot of practice sculpting his friend of 40 years. He created a bronze bust of the former Baltimore Colts player in the 1970s, and in 1998 he unveiled a life-size sculpture at Unitas' alma mater, the University of Louisville.

Kail expects it to take about 18 months to finish his latest endeavor.

"This was almost like a fantasy come true. I dreamed of doing this for quite a few years and now it's a reality," he said.

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A Hagerstown High School graduate, Kail got his start in sculpting under the direction of art teacher Clyde Roberts in the 1950s.

"That was instrumental in my desire to pursue the arts,'' said Kail, 63.

After graduation in 1955, Kail attended the Maryland Institute of Art. He spent the next 35 years operating a Baltimore-based graphic design firm but turned his focus back to sculpting in 1992.

Kail said he met Unitas when he was sculpting the football figurines that helped to put him through college.

"They were just whimsical things I would put the players' numbers on," he said. "It proliferated from the Baltimore Colts to the Washington Redskins and the Philadelphia Eagles."

Kail said Unitas asked for him to do the statue in Louisville, which is showcased at Papa Johns Cardinal Stadium at the university.

"The university asked John if he had a preference of who he wanted to do his statue," he said.

Kail said that was the hallmark of his career - until now.

The Maryland Stadium Authority gave its approval to the statue that could become part of a "walkway of champions" earlier this month. Kail said he is working to establish a nonprofit foundation to raise $250,000 from private investors to fund the statue.

"This will be the best project I have ever done. It will be a real challenge," said Kail, who said he has never done anything this large before.

He said that while the project is a plus for his career, it is also a long overdue tribute to Unitas.

"John should have been recognized many years ago for what he has really contributed to Maryland and professional football," Kail said.

The statue's size is significant because at 19-feet-tall including the base, it is purposefully symbolic of the No. 19 Unitas wore on his jersey. Kail added that "anything smaller would look minuscule" next to the stadium.

Kail, who said he won't forget that he picked up his love for sculpting in Hagerstown, still returns to the city to visit his mother Marcella Ard and his sister Eileen Harbaugh.

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