Schwarzenegger finds sculptor's technique perfect for his physique

Wednesday, March 7th 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

LEWISTON, Idaho - Ralph Crawford's energy seems to know no bounds.

He's tried taxidermy, cattle ranching and roofing. He's a history buff, painter and owns a vineyard - which he hopes to certify for wine-making, another interest.

Below the vineyard, which lies behind his home overlooking the Lewiston-Clarkston Valley, is the skeleton of the Cobra sports car he's always wanted and is assembling from a kit.

It's parked beside a workshop where Crawford, 67, a noted western sculptor, creates fountains, nudes and Indian chiefs.

Sometimes the intense and absent-minded Crawford finishes his projects, sometimes he doesn't and sometimes they take on a life of their own.

That's the reason he was sitting in Arnold Schwarzenegger's trailer last April on the set of the actor's latest movie ``The Sixth Day.''

He was sitting there watching Schwarzenegger play chess, smoke cigars and clown around, because at one point Crawford had got it into his head he wanted to build a gym.

It was the early 1970s and Crawford, a sometimes bodybuilder, read an article about 1938's Mr. Universe Joe Weider, who owned a chain of gyms. Crawford noted Weider liked western art and wrote him a letter - maybe they could make some kind of trade, he thought.

They didn't trade, but Weider commissioned him to do a heroic-sized bust of himself and that was how Crawford started immortalizing body builders in bronze.

``Being an artist, you work with all sorts of people,'' said Crawford, who has an abandoned 12-foot-tall statue of Weider under his house. Weider decided he didn't want it put to bronze because it looked too big.

Crawford went on to work for Joe Gold of Gold's Gyms and Arnold Schwarzenegger, a world-famous bodybuilder on the edge of movie stardom about to headline a film called ``Conan the Barbarian.''

Crawford sculpted a 22-inch high statue of Schwarzenegger in a pose called ``Arnold's Classic.''

After that Crawford began to sculpt full-time.

He watched Schwarzenegger rise to fame and the bronze along with him. The statue was reproduced as an award for an annual national bodybuilding event Schwarzenegger sponsors in Columbus, Ohio. He posed on the cover of Muscle and Fitness magazine with it in 1997.

Last spring, Schwarzenegger asked Crawford to recreate the statue at 56 inches high and Crawford went to Vancouver, British Columbia, to the set of the ``The Sixth Day.''

He plays a video tape of the visit. In it, Schwarzenegger sits in his studio trailer and jokes about how old, wrinkled and sagging his face is compared with when Crawford did the first sculpture.

``Holy moly,'' said Schwarzenegger, ``You'll have to redo the whole face again.''

Crawford said there wasn't too much to change.

For two days and nights Schwarzenegger paid for Crawford to stay in a hotel and sculpt the actor between 15-minute set takes.

``It's a blast. He makes it fun for everybody there. He's a born actor, always clowning around.''

The finished statue will cost more than $55,000 and Crawford will deliver it to Schwarzenegger's Sun Valley home this summer.

He said he is in the process of negotiating a portrait of the actor's family, a project he looks forward to that could take at least three years.

Working with Schwarzenegger is one of the highlights of his diverse life, he said.

``Because of his personality and somewhere in there comes the money.''