By

Mary Beth Faller

The pitchfork symbol is ubiquitous around Arizona State University, and now there is finally a sculpture of the iconic representation of the Sun Devils, unveiled last week.

The 6-foot, 3-inch-tall bronze pitchfork sits at the southeast entrance of the newly renovated Sun Devil Stadium, a symbol of school spirit and the perfect place for fan photos.

“We didn’t have anything like this, and we needed our emblem,” said Arthur Pearce II, a Mesa businessman and third-generation Sun Devil, who donated the statue.

Four years ago, Pearce came up with the idea of donating a statue to the stadium, and he had the perfect artist — Jeff Carol Davenport, an ASU alumna. Davenport had created the 2014 sculpture of Pearce’s grandfather, Zebulon Pearce, that sits in downtown Mesa. Zebulon Pearce played football at the Tempe Normal School — now ASU — in 1899, graduating with teaching credentials.

But when Pearce pitched the idea, Chad Graham, then the football coach at ASU, asked him if he would consider donating a statue of Pat Tillman instead, and Pearce agreed. Tillman was a student-athlete at ASU from 1994 to 1998, earning a degree in marketing, and then played football professionally with the Arizona Cardinals. Reacting to the 9/11 terrorist attacks, Tillman enlisted in the Army in May 2002. He died in Afghanistan in 2004.

Tillman’s legacy is a powerful influence on the ASU football team, whose members wear No. 42 on their uniforms every year.

So Davenport created the 7-and-half-foot-tall statue of Pat Tillman that stands in front of the Tillman Tunnel at the north end of Frank Kush Field at Sun Devil Stadium.

The Tillman statue was unveiled a year ago.

“It’s so inspiring,” Pearce said on Friday of the Tillman statue, which the players touch as they run onto the field. Pearce, who earned a degree in business from ASU in 1975, watched Tillman play in the 1990s.

“It’s great seeing not only the players but also people walking down from the stadium to look at it and take photos. It’s of worldwide importance because of what Tillman stood for and his character.

“The pitchfork is a little more specific for Sun Devil fans and also for future generations, who can stand by it and get their pictures taken after graduation.”

Davenport created the pitchfork at the same time as she was working on the Tillman statue, both at Bollinger Atelier foundry in Tempe. While she has seen the ASU pitchfork everywhere, it was a challenge for her to envision it as a three-dimensional figure.

“I had the pitchfork cut in foam and it was sort of a block shape, but then I realized it needed to be more sculptural so I sculpted it into the shape you see today,” said Davenport, who earned her master’s of elementary education in 2008 from the Mary Lou Fulton Teachers College. She is an art teacher at Sandra Day O’Connor High School and also has her own studio in New River.

After Davenport finished the 3-foot-wide bronze pitchfork, it stayed in the foundry for more than a year before the maroon and gold patina was applied last week. On Friday, it was hoisted and dropped onto its base between two sets of steps at the stadium, just to the east of the ticket windows.

Pearce said that he goes to a lot of away football games and has seen many beloved mascot statues, including the husky at the University of Washington.

“People go up to the husky and hug it so much that the patina is worn off,” he said.

“Now we’ll finally have ours.”

Before the football game on Saturday, Pearce stood by the new statue, offering to take people's photos with it.

Pearce’s daughter, Jessica Pearce, an ASU alumna and current master’s degree student, attended the installation of the pitchfork on Friday.

“My dad has always been a huge ASU fan and supporter, so it’s nice that he can give back in a way that will stick around long after we’re all gone.”

Top photo: Ashwini Dhas (left) and Casey Clowes, both alumni of the Sandra Day O'Connor College of Law at ASU, pose for photos at the new pitchfork statue at Sun Devil Stadium before the ASU football game on Saturday. Photo by Deanna Dent/ASU Now