Scott Oldfield ’06 is a busy guy. He balances family life with his work as a lecturer in SUNY Cortland’s Art and Art History Department and as the official preparator for Dowd Gallery exhibits.
And, in his spare time, he’s building a giant, smoke-breathing, stainless steel dragon.
Despite Oldfield’s hectic schedule, when SUNY Cortland approached Oldfield about creating a landmark dragon sculpture in front of the stadium complex, he said he couldn’t resist. Oldfield saw it as an opportunity to say thank you to his alma mater in a deeply meaningful, personal and permanent fashion.
“How do you give back to the schools you’ve gone to?” Oldfield asked. “Monetarily doesn’t always work. Such is life. When I first started talking to Peter (Perkins, vice president of institutional advancement) about this, I thought it was an incredible opportunity for me to do something for the school that basically gave me my start to where I am now. When this came up, I jumped on it and said I’d love to do this.”
Thanks to a generous donation from Mike Vela ’88, Oldfield started working on the dragon sculpture on March 1. The piece will be unveiled at 11:30 a.m. on Saturday, Sept. 16 as part of Red Dragon Homecoming 2017.
The sculpture is based on SUNY Cortland’s athletics logo. It will stand approximately 10 feet tall from the top of its pedestal to the tip of the dragon’s horns. The statue will stretch about 26 feet in length. Smoke will pour out of its mouth before games, making it a perfect photo spot for students, alumni and Red Dragons fans alike.
Oldfield has received a bit of assistance from friends and family, including Ben Cottom, his partner in a previous art endeavor; father-in-law Peter Cowling; and SUNY Cortland studio art student Erin Schiano, but he estimates that “95 percent” of the final product will have been his own handiwork. He needed one month to do the initial staging and followed that with two months of exclusively building the dragon’s fame. Oldfield spent the summer months crafting and attaching the dragon’s scales, installing the smoke machine and painting the final product.
“It’s all stainless steel,” Oldfield said. “We did that on purpose because Cortland was looking for something that was going to stand the test of time. They want something to be around for generations of students to take their picture by, whether it be graduation day or after football games or just messing around. We chose stainless to do it just for the durability factor and the longevity of it. It’ll also be red in certain parts and that was the donor’s request. Parts will be nice, shiny stainless steel but the mass will be red.”
The planning behind the sculpture took a significant amount of time for Oldfield. The first thing he did was make a 1/10th scale model of the dragon, which exposed some problems in translating a two-dimensional logo into a three-dimensional statue. Oldfield then went back to the drawing board to create something that was going to match SUNY Cortland’s Red Dragon aesthetic yet still be a sturdy outdoor installation.
Oldfield said “this is the biggest object I’ve built, singularly, for sure.”
“I’ve never really done something like this before,” Oldfield said. “When you’re doing shows and things like that, everything is set up and when the opening happens, people are experiencing things for the first time. On a mass scale like this, it’ll be a different experience. It’ll definitely be interesting and I’m hoping everyone is going to be happy and pleased with it."
The Red Dragon sculpture is likely to quickly become a focal point on campus and one of the most-photographed spots at SUNY Cortland. Not only will this sculpture breathe smoke, it will act as a time machine. Alumni who return to campus decades from now will stop to recreate photos with the friends in front of the dragon. It will mark the passage of time from one generation of students to the next.
For an artist, that feeling is magic. And that is why Oldfield is proud to have been asked to sculpt this tribute to SUNY Cortland.
“This is a perfect way for me to give something back to the school,” he said. “Also having a permanent public sculpture is another big perk and the community and the school can enjoy it for generations. After I’m gone, it’ll still be sitting there. That’s the cool thing. It’ll be a legacy that will still be around.”
Oldfield began working on that legacy as a child who was constantly drawing. He was also drawn to building things with his hands, a trait he adopted from his father, who worked as a contractor. That led Oldfield to major in Art and Art History at SUNY Cortland, specializing in sculpture and ceramics.
Oldfield went on to earn a Master of Fine Arts at the University of Texas at San Antonio, where he also worked as a display coordinator for Anthropologie, a lifestyle brand for young women. He had to meet tight deadlines and try to match his aesthetic with that of his supervisor’s.
Upon returning to the Cortland area, Oldfield helped create the Summerhill Sculpture Center with friend Ben Cottom. The center mixes cutting-edge, outdoor sculpture with the beauty of nature.