Morehead State art teacher Stephen Tirone grinds his sculpture “Freedom’s Guardian” at his studio. The sculpture is to be unveiled today in Staten Island, N.Y.

Stephen Tirone’s start-to-finish sculpting of “Freedom’s Guardian” has been a year-long labor of love.

For Gino Terranova, it’s the realization of a dream.

The finished bronze sculpture will be unveiled today in Staten Island, N.Y., in front of the Marine Corps League clubhouse, the first monument erected especially honoring Marines in New York.

Tirone, who is originally from the Staten Island area and served in the Marines from 1968 to 1972 during the Vietnam War, has been an art teacher at Morehead State University since 1982. Terranova knew Tirone because they were “backdoor neighbors.”

Because Tirone is a former Marine, that made the case all the better for Terranova, who has been soliciting funds for the project for five years. The final cost was $30,000, although Tirone didn’t charge for any labor.

“I just charged for the materials,” Tirone said.

Tirone was honored to do the job, which he completed at his foundry in Morehead. He purchases the bronze from a business in Missouri.

The bronze representation of a Marine, which stands more than 6 feet tall, depicts him in full battle fatigues, with ammunition clips, bulletproof backpack, boots, a contemporary rifle, helmet, canteen and desert goggles.

“It is representative of a Marine that’s constantly and forever on alert,” Tirone said. “I had considered other more cliched poses, like running into battle or carrying a wounded soldier, but it didn’t address the spirit of the piece. Every single person, male or female wearing the uniform right now, can relate to the heavy pack on their back and all that gear. That’s why I chose that.”

Tirone’s finished work has amazing detail, right down to the name on a dog tag in the Marine’s boot — Marines have dog tags around their neck and in their boot — and the serial number of the rifle that he’s holding.

“They asked for the highest level of detail,” Tirone said.

They got it from Tirone, who has made nearly 20 bronze statues in his career. A project like “Freedom’s Guardian,” that took about a year to complete, would be an estimated $75,000 in market value.

The dog tags came from one of the members of the Marine Corps League, Tirone said.

“I was unable to find my own dog tags and I asked Gino if he had his,” Tirone said. “He didn’t have his either. One of the members of the Marine Corps League had his on his key chain. His name was O’Shea, I’m not sure if it was John or Tom.”

The face and frame of the statue is that of Tirone’s nephew, Kevin Tirone. “He was 19, the perfect age,” Stephen Tirone said. “I took a number of digitals of him. Again, it’s a reasonable likeness. I needed a youthful look.”

The statue’s face is one of someone looking alert and ready for anything, Tirone said.

“I didn’t want to go to the clichés, like having him gritting his teeth,” he said. “The face is speaking to total alertness. He’s preparing his rifle.”

Tirone loaded up the 800-pound statue in the back of his Ford Ranger and drove to Staten Island last week to have it installed.

Terranova had the chance to see it then and he marveled at the work.

“He’s got the hands of gold,” Terranova said. “Now it’s in place. We broke a bottle of champagne on it.”

Terranova knows a little something about artwork himself. Stoneworking has been his profession as he’s a third-generation member of the family marble business. And, of course, Terranova is a former Marine, too. He served from 1942 to 1946 and spent two years in the Pacific Theater of Operations.

“I was only 19 years old, a bewildered kid,” he said. “It made a man out of me.”

Today during the unveiling ceremony, a flight of helicopters are flying over in a salute and Marines will be repelling down into the park. It’s also “Fleet Week” in New York and the Marines who are a part of the fleet will be guests for the ceremony.

On Memorial Day, the Marines will march in a parade with the Marine Corps League, Terranova said.

“It’s really going to be exciting,” he said.

Tirone will be flying up to be at the ceremony, too.

While it’s all happening on Memorial Day weekend, Tirone said the sculpture represents not only the past Marines but the present and future as well.

“This particular sculpture is not a memorial to dead Marines,” he said. “It’s to honor the Marines in general.”

Terranova said he’s known Tirone since “he was 2 years old, my backdoor neighbor.”

“He’s such a devoted guy, he’s not a bragger,” Terranova said.

Tirone, who has been commissioned to do work through 2010, along with his obligations at Morehead State, saw the project as a labor of love. He sculpted the piece and was also the foundry for it.

“The subtle difference is, I’m doing everything,” he said. “I sculpted the original piece and I’m also the foundry. A piece like that someone could execute in four months if they sent it to a professional foundry. I did it from start to finish.”

While working on any art project, Tirone enjoys listening to Italian operas and classics.

“I’m all Italian,” Tirone said. “I grew up in an Italian home, speak Italian and love anything Italian.”

This particular sculpture has special meaning to him for several reasons from patriotic to family ties.

“This is the first piece that my family will be able to touch and see,” he said. “The (Marine Corps) League is about a mile from where I grew up (in West Brightonite).”

Tirone, who specialized in radar and communications while in the Marine Corps, was discharged in 1972 at the Air Base in Beaufort, S.C. He stayed there and attended a University of South Carolina campus.

He transferred to the main campus in Columbia, S.C., and earned a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree in 1974. He taught art at an elementary school in Beaufort for Marine Corps dependents and also started a small business selling his art.

He received his Master’s of Fine Art in studio art and sculpture from the University of Wisconsin where he studied from 1976 to 1979 and has been teaching sculpture and ceramics at Morehead State since 1982.

MARK MAYNARD can be reached at or (606) 326-2664.

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