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Prewitt Fiberglass price sheet ~1962.
1960s Prewitt Fiberglass price sheet with Richard's artworks.

Richard Ellis: Right-Hand Man

Richard Ellis has had a long and distinguished career as a professional sculptor. His outdoor artworks in bronze and stone -- including public figures from Jackie Robinson to Rudolph Valentino -- can be seen across America.

But his first public sculptures were in fiberglass, and that included work on perhaps the most iconic of all roadside artworks, the Muffler Man -- and helps to explain one of the statue's little mysteries: why his right hand looks different from his left.

The sculpted hands of an ax holder.
The sculpted hands of an ax holder.

"It was 1962. I was still going to art school," said Richard. One of his family's southern California neighbors was Bob Prewitt, had a fiberglass statue business. Prewitt hired young Richard to sculpt animals: life-size steers, cows, bucking broncos, and others that still stand outside countless businesses. "He'd make a mold of my plaster models, cast 'em in fiberglass, put 'em on a trailer, and just went across the country, dropping them off any place he could sell one," said Richard. "Those things were in front of every dairy and steakhouse from here to Boston. I've even seen them in Paris."

At the same time, Prewitt's business was creating the first Muffler Man, a Bunyan-size lumberjack for a restaurant in Flagstaff, Arizona. Richard couldn't remember the name of the artist assigned to the job -- it was Bill Swan -- but he did recall that Prewitt was having problems with the statue.

"They couldn't make him hold an ax," Richard said. Apparently Swan had sculpted just the left, curled-fingers hand, and Prewitt had discovered that duplicating and reversing it for the right hand wouldn't work. The Muffler Man needed one hand with extended fingers, or the ax would drop.

"I was around; I was available," said Richard. "So they hired me to do that right hand so he could hold that ax."

Also see: Richard Ellis Caveman Statue | Muffler Men Home Page

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