Sculptor of Paterno statue 'would go along with any just decision'

The Joe Paterno statue has been the subject of controversy since the release of the Freeh report.
The Joe Paterno statue has been the subject of controversy since the release of the Freeh report. (MICHAEL BRYANT / Staff Photographer)
Posted: July 19, 2012

Angelo Di Maria knew about the plane flying over State College, Pa., on Tuesday, the one carrying a banner threatening, "Take the statue down or we will."

His statue.

Di Maria sculpted the seven-foot, 900-pound bronze statue of Joe Paterno that stands, however tenuously, outside Beaver Stadium.

"Almost surreal," Di Maria said in an interview Tuesday afternoon. "It's snowballing into an incredible thing."

The 65-year-old native of Sicily, who lives outside Reading in Mount Penn, is philosophical about what may happen to the monument to the late Pennsylvania State University coach, unveiled in 2001. The storm over the statue re-erupted after last week's Freeh report on the Jerry Sandusky child sex-abuse scandal pointed to Paterno's culpability in a cover-up along with that of top Penn State officials.

"I have to say, I can't be so bold, because I'm the artist, that I want it [to stay] up," Di Maria said. "That's what the public would expect me to think. I have to be clear with my conscience. I would go along with any just decision that is made. Not only am I compelled to take the side of the victims, but I consider also the feeling of the kids who went there [to Penn State], who have such a high regard for State College."

Penn State reportedly plans to make a decision on the statue in the next seven to 10 days.

A Pennsylvanian living in or around Reading since 1958, Di Maria said he does not believe any decision should be made in the heat of the moment.

"Can we reach a fair compromise?" Di Maria said. "Yes, I believe it is humanly possible. But it is too early. Emotions are going through the ceiling. Humanity cannot make rational decisions when emotions are so high."

The artist, who does other work for Penn State, has his own questions about how the college should proceed. Students in charge of Paternoville, where students camp out for the best seats at football games, announced this week they were changing the name to Nittanyville.

"There is another monument that's a tribute to him," Di Maria said. "The library. Do they tear that down? Should they raze that to the ground? If they're going to take the man down, then everything should be thrown out, but should you throw everything out, fairly?

"The basic question is, do you throw everything out? That legacy is ingrained in people who went there. Nothing can rival the importance of the abuse victims, or the children of the abuse victims. But there are others involved - the people who were so affected by him."

Then again, he said, "if they do take down the statue, will that help future kids and future universities to be aware and more pragmatic?"

Di Maria can speak with some degree of objectivity because he never met Paterno. According to a 2001 Penn State news release, the statue was commissioned by the university and "Friends of Joe and Sue Paterno."

"It was a surprise for him," Di Maria said. "I was disguised as a reporter [at a game], with a badge and a camera. I followed him around at a game, on the sidelines. I had never been to a football game in all my life. I felt as if I was in a spaceship out in the galaxy somewhere. I could not believe the energy I felt."

Di Maria said he created an 18-inch clay model and displayed it for several people, including one of Paterno's daughters.

"His daughter approved," Di Maria said. "We took it back to the foundry, made a few changes."

Di Maria said he was supposed to meet Paterno, there was going to be a luncheon, but the coach was always busy, he was told, so it never came off. The artist also heard that Paterno would say, "What do you want to make a statue of me [for]?"

He took that as a sign of the coach's humble nature. Now he wonders whether other factors were in play, he said.

"Did he feel some kind of guilt?" Di Maria said. "I'm only speculating."

Not a sports fan, Di Maria said he had followed the Sandusky scandal like anyone else.

His wife wondered why "this monster" Sandusky wasn't stopped at the beginning, Di Maria said. But he added about the response by top Penn State officials, "Would we have done the same thing? Here is this huge money-making machine, this glory machine. Was it worth bringing down State College?"

Di Maria has not heard from Penn State officials, and does not necessarily expect to. He understands that if the statue does stay up, it will remind many who see it of events no artist could have imagined.

"The people on top, who are so pressured, they don't know what to do," Di Maria said. "I don't know how long they will wait."

Whatever they decide.

"As an artist, part of me is in that statue, whether it's Joe Paterno or someone else," Di Maria said. "It hurts. It stood for a great man, before this whole thing broke out. I guess for some people he's still a great man."


Contact Mike Jensen at 215-854-4489 or mjensen@phillynews.com or on Twitter @Jensenoffcampus.

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