After rescuing a child from a fire or car crash, a firefighter hands the child to a police officer for continued care. At such a moment, teamwork among public safety personnel is at its height.
For this reason, Tempe firefighter and sculptor Steve Schneider has chosen to capture the moment for Gilbert’s newest piece of public art.
A committee of Gilbert residents commissioned Schneider, a 12-year firefighting veteran, in July to sculpt a memorial for the town’s police and fire building. City Manager George Pettit said the sculpture will be the first major piece of art on the Civic Center campus and the first in the town to recognize public safety personnel.
In Schneider’s 7-foot bronze sculpture, the police officer represents Rob Targosz, the Gilbert officer killed in a hitand-run collision on April 30. The town hopes to dedicate the memorial in 2007 on the anniversary of Targosz’s death.
The memorial for heroes is being crafted by one.
Last week, Schneider himself was honored by the Tempe Fire Department for his involvement in the rescue of two people found unconscious and not breathing in an apartment fire last month.
A lifelong Phoenix resident, Schneider tested to be a firefighter for almost 10 years before securing a position at the Tempe Fire Department in 1994. But within a year, Schneider suffered a stroke, forcing him to leave firefighting for six months to recover.
During that time, he sculpted.
Schneider said his eyes would “click” as he worked, and he’d have to position his clay at odd angles in order to see it properly. But the time away from firefighting helped him refine his skills.
“My art is my haven,” Schneider said.
Schneider’s wife of 29 years, Donna, bought her husband his first sculpting supplies in 1989. She said she noticed her husband was calmer and enjoyed his family more when he had time for himself and time for his art. Beyond a few high school art classes, Schneider is self-taught.
“I sculpt what I see,” Schneider said, adding that he likes to “freeze” moments that people don’t normally see because they happen so quickly.
When completed, Schneider will send the three figures in his sculpture to a Prescott foundry to be cast into bronze.
Schneider chose the form the sculpture would take, but the idea to build a memorial was a result of “a collision of ideas,” according to Linda Abbott, a 20-year Gilbert resident and school teacher.
Rob Targosz’s father, Gene, said he and Abbott were the first to latch on to the idea for a sculpture. To raise the $200,000 needed to fund the memorial, Abbott and Targosz joined others to form the Public Safety Memorial Advisory Committee, which raises funds for the project.
The committee has just made 153 black granite tiles available at $1,000 per tile. They will be engraved with donors’ names and will form the base of the sculpture.