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home : features : people & places May 22, 2015


6/17/2013 10:38:00 AM
Prescott Valley foundry casting bronze Family Circus sculpture
Jeff and Glenn Keane scrutinize details of the clay model depicting their father and the Family Circus kids at Bronzesmith in Prescott Valley.
Photo courtesy Les Stukenberg/The Daily Courier
Jeff and Glenn Keane scrutinize details of the clay model depicting their father and the Family Circus kids at Bronzesmith in Prescott Valley.
Photo courtesy Les Stukenberg/The Daily Courier
Jeff and Glenn Keane work on the clay model of a sculpture honoring their father, Family Circus cartoonist Bill Keane, at Bronzesmith in Prescott Valley Thursday.
Photo courtesy Les Stukenberg/The Daily Courier
Jeff and Glenn Keane work on the clay model of a sculpture honoring their father, Family Circus cartoonist Bill Keane, at Bronzesmith in Prescott Valley Thursday.
Photo courtesy Les Stukenberg/The Daily Courier

Karen Despain
Special to the Tribune


The love of a father for his children will endure for generations when a bronze statue, "Giddy-up Daddy," commemorating the late Family Circus cartoonist Bil Keane takes its place in the Scottsdale McCormick-Stillman Railroad Park this fall.

That same deep affection - and sense of humor - lit up a workroom at the Bronzesmith Fine Art Gallery and Foundry in Prescott Valley last week when Keane sons Jeff and Glen visited to help sculptor Debbie Gessner with the statue's finishing touches as it is prepared for bronze casting in October.

"Giddy-up Daddy" portrays the real-life Bil Keane giving Family Circus cartoon children Billy, Dolly, Jeffy and P.J. a piggyback ride. It resembles a porcelain figurine that Keane, himself, created in the 1980s that portrayed Family Circus daddy Bil with all four kids piled on his back for an imaginary ride. Glen and Jeff created the vision for the bronze statue from this small ceramic piece.

"The idea came from him," Glen said of his father's gift for illustrating the lighter side of family life in his cartoon strip that made its debut in 1960.

Gessner "three dimensionalized" Jeff and Glen's line drawing of the statue they envisioned. "Deb is a master sculptor. It's a real joy working with her," Glen said, adding she has sent many a photo of her progress on the statue as she worked the clay around a Styrofoam form. "It was amazing how much closer she would get" with each refinement the brothers asked of her. "You fill in by your mind not your eyes," he said. "It's one thing to work on a sculpture as a beautiful design. It's another thing to create the likeness of someone you know - your father.

"All of us had to take our personal investment in our father and translate that into three-dimensional form," Glen said of the love for their dad that demanded perfection in creating him in bronze as he was in life. That's why both Glen and Jeff have made trips from their California homes to the Bronzesmith to fine tune "something not quite right to our eyes," Jeff said.

"Proof reading" is how Glen described the touches both brothers put on the statue last week. "This is our last pass," he added, indicating satisfaction with Gressner's work, even though more photos are bound to flow between Gessner and the Keanes before casting in October.

Bil Keane was born Oct. 5, 1922, in Philadelphia. He served in the U.S. Army in World War II, and while he was stationed in Australia, he met Thel Carne and married her five years later in Brisbane.

His website states, "In Roslyn, Pa., we started our real-life family circus. They provided the inspiration for my cartoon; I provided the perspiration." "They" would be Glen and Jeff, of course, along with Neal, Christopher and Gayle. The Family Circus gang are parents Bil and Thel and Billy, Dolly, Jeffy and P.S., fictionalized composites of the Keanes' real children.

The real-life family moved to Paradise Valley in the Phoenix area from Pennsylvania in 1959, and the first of the Family Circus cartoons appeared in 1960, enjoying worldwide fame to this day. Bil Keane died Nov. 8, 2011.

The idea for "Giddy-up Daddy" originated with Mary Hamway, former Paradise Valley councilwoman and vice mayor, who spearheaded a fundraising drive that met the goal to finance the statue's $80,000 cost.

The first plan was that it would stand at the Paradise Valley Town Hall, but Jeff Keane confirmed Thursday that the statue will be placed at the Stillman Railroad Park as a gift from the town.

That would be important to his father, he said, because visiting that park has been a Keane family tradition and more children and families will see the statue there.

Jeff now draws and writes Family Circus and continues his father's legacy. But, he said, the statue of his father "will be hanging around long after we're gone, with kids playing around it.

"He would be thrilled."

The statue will be dedicated around Nov. 8, the two-year anniversary of Keane's death.


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