After former President George H.W. Bush’s death last year, a photo of his service dog lying on the floor in front of his casket gained national attention as an example of a dog’s love and loyalty.
Exactly one year after that photo was taken, the Labrador retriever’s dedication to the 41st president will be honored with a life-size bronze sculpture of Sully created by California-based artist Susan Bahary. The statue will be on display at the George H.W. Bush Presidential Library and Museum beginning Monday.
“I fell in love with the dog on television when I was watching a lot of the funeral,” Bahary said. “I am a very patriotic person, and I always stop to take in these moments of history, and I was very moved by the funeral of the president. And when I saw the dog, I’m sure you can imagine I was very moved by the essence of that dog and the connection that they obviously had.”
Her hope, she said, is that her sculpture captures the connection Bush and Sully had.
Commissioned by America’s VetDogs, Bahary said, the sculpture shows Sully sitting in his presidential vest with his leash in his mouth.
“I wanted the dog to look as if he was sitting right at the side of the president in his wheelchair, looking up at the president and saying, ‘OK, here’s my leash,’ ... and that in his eyes, one can see the devotion and loyalty that the president inspired in the dog,” she said.
Bahary has been creating monuments and statues in honor and in memory of military, law enforcement and assistance animals for 25 years.
Her inspiration, she said, is what animals do for humans: “How they open our hearts in a positive way, and, in the terms of service dogs, how they save lives, emotionally and physically, of the people they work with.
“I’m very moved to try to capture that, so that in generations to come, these future generations will understand the service and the sacrifice of both our military working dogs or other animals who serve and their handlers.”
She was honored to receive the commission to sculpt Sully, she said, because of Bush’s involvement in signing the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990.
“To capture Sully and have him be at the library is really just a thrill for me and an honor, and it means so much,” Bahary said. “And I hope ... that it will also raise awareness and support for all our service animals and the people who work with them.”
The process to create the bronze Sully began in July when Bahary met the service dog and spent three hours with him, taking photographs, videos and measurements.
Though Bahary had already gotten a general feeling for Sully by watching him on TV and had been anticipating sculpting him, she said, she got “butterflies and chills” when Sully entered the hotel lobby where they met.
Bahary said she does not get star-struck, but she was awestruck by Sully.
“My immediate thought was, ‘He’s so handsome,’ ” she said, noting she was struck by Sully’s “gentle, noble” behavior. “I find that there is a nobility in animals anyway, which is what I try to capture in everything I do when it’s animals.”
Bahary said neither Sully’s status as a presidential service dog nor his presence at Monday’s unveiling put more pressure on her as she was creating the piece of art.
“I just feel that, quite honestly, every project that I do has to be my best,” she said. “When I stop doing my best, I should probably quit sculpting.”
But the importance of the sculpture did not escape her, she said, noting her involvement in the project has been special for her.
“I think it’s going to be very moving because of where I am, because it’s at the library, because of what it stands for,” she said.
As people see the monument, she said, she hopes the emotion comes through.
“I will just be happy if the people feel that it did justice to the noble cause,” she said.
Bahary said she’ll be interested to see Sully’s reaction to his bronze lookalike.
For more information on Bahary and her other works of service animals, including the National Service Animals Monument and Purple Poppy movement, visit baharystudios.com and nationalserviceanimalsmonument.org.