Temple Grandin sculpture honors perseverance, makes history

Faculty, staff, donors and community members gathered to celebrate the new sculpture of Temple Grandin, made possible due to the generosity of alum Jeff Tovar. Photos by Grace Branaugh/CSU Photography

Perseverance. That’s what Temple Grandin hopes people see when they look at the new sculpture of her at Colorado State University’s Animal Sciences Building.

“I think what’s really important is inspiring students to persevere,” said Grandin at a recent celebration for the bronze sculpture. The piece, housed within the JBS Global Food Innovation Center in Honor of Gary and Kay Smith, was made possible thanks to the generosity of CSU alumnus Jeff Tovar.

Grandin, a CSU professor of animal sciences and renowned animal behaviorist and autism activist, recalled just how important that trait was during her early years in the industry.

“Back in the early ’70s, that’s where I really got introduced to the meat packing industry, and they didn’t really have internships back in those days,” she said. “But I kind of made my own internship. I went over (to the Swift plant) every Tuesday afternoon for about three years and learned the industry, and then I started my design business, just slowly. One job at a time; that’s how you start.”

American Meat Science Association CEO and Professional Animal Auditor Certification Organization, Inc. Executive Director Collette Kaster said the sculpture was a fitting tribute to her longtime colleague and friend’s phenomenal impact.

“It is so fun to see because Temple impacts every different walk of life,” Kaster said. “It could be a farm kid from FFA who is on break at a Pizza Hut … It could be a bunch of people from the meat industry. Everybody wants to line up to get a picture with her because they know the significant impact she’s had. (She’s a) hero to teachers, to parents, to all of us who work in the meat and livestock industry.”

Where art and science ‘meat’

That includes the sculpture’s artist David Anderson.

As a former research scientist with Elanco Animal Health Research and Development and an affiliate faculty member of CSU’s Department of Animal Sciences, Anderson knows first-hand the difference that Grandin has made in the industry.

“We hope that this display will not only honor Dr. Grandin, but help expand the impact that she has had on the welfare of livestock and the understanding of autism,” he said.

Anderson moved from Indiana to Colorado, in part, to begin his “second act” as an artist.

“I got into sculpture with evening classes when I worked at Elanco,” Anderson said. “I started taking classes at the Indianapolis Art Center once a week in the evenings, starting out in ceramics with the vases and that kind of stuff. But I never could get into clay. I made funny faces on my vases, and the teacher said, ‘I don’t think you should be in this class. I’ve got another class for you.’”

Anderson considers himself an amateur sculptor despite having done multiple commissions throughout the years, including two for his alma mater, South Dakota State University. For this sculpture, he worked with Loveland sculptor Pat Kennedy to get Grandin’s stoic look and the folds and embroidery on her ever-present Western shirt just right.

Inspired by an image by photographer Rosalie Winard, the life-size piece features Grandin sitting on the ground, staring out into the distance. The pose is one Grandin has often struck while sitting in a pen of cattle.

“I think it’s always great for a sculpture to tell a story,” Anderson said. “And the story with Dr. Grandin that is so typical of her is this iconic figure sitting in a feedlot teaching people that don’t understand animal behavior how cattle respond to a person in the feedlot. That they have a combination of fear and curiosity, and if you sit very still they’ll come closer and closer and pretty soon they’ll have their nose on you.”

History in the making

Almost a decade in the works, the artwork is the University’s first female sculpture on campus, and for Grandin, it’s an honor she doesn’t take lightly. At age 74, she still remembers a time when being the first female to do something wasn’t necessarily something that was celebrated.

“I can tell you being a woman in a man’s industry in the ’70s was not easy,” she said of those early run-ins, mainly with middle management. “They didn’t like this ‘girl nerd’ coming in on their turf.” 

To combat this attitude, Grandin made herself indispensable.

“I had to make myself really good at what I did,” she said, whether that was writing up an article covering the cattle feeders meeting or designing innovative dipping vats that were effective and safe for livestock. Four decades later, she’s still innovating.

The day before the sculpture was unveiled, Grandin was at the open house for the new Temple Grandin Equine Center. The site celebrates the role of the horse in society as a place of healing, treatment, education and research for diverse clients. When asked what she thinks about all the attention, Grandin was characteristically humble but also practical.

“I’m really pleased that they think that I’ve improved things,” she said. “People ask me, ‘What do you think of all this attention?’ And I go, ‘It’s a responsibility. Now I’ve always got to be on my good behavior. It’s a responsibility.’ That’s the way I look at it.”