Gary Roller Studio News
— Paramhansa Yogananda, author of Autobiography of a Yogi
This is the story of how a small group of people—new to creating monumental bronze sculpture, but devoted to realizing their vision of a larger-than-life tribute to Paramhansa Yogananda—succeeded.
The beginnings of the Yogananda Gardens tribute began, at least for this member of the sculpture team, when Lincoln Fox, my college art teacher in Amarillo,Texas, shared with me his copy of Autobiography of a Yogi. (Probably the only copy in town at the time.) This teacher was at the beginning of a very successful bronze sculpting career and—although I was not a student of sculpture—I happened to be around him to absorb sculpting methods that would later be needed for this project. Looking back, it now seems more than just a coincidence!
While living in Austin, Texas and working in the music business—touring, recording, and performing left little time for art but Roller Studio did a small bronze portrait of John Wayne that the Governor of the State of Texas sent out to his family in Hollywood. About this same time there was a growing sense of awe and respect for Yogananda that the idea of sculpting a tribute portrait of him really began to surface. Another piece created around this same time was a tribute to Walt Disney later purchased by the Disney Company.
So began the medium-sized portrait of the spiritual hero, Paramhansa Yogananda.The project began by pouring over all of the photos I could find in various books and magazines and selecting the ones to work from.
It had to be really good. I was inspired to keep it at the level of quality that I saw reflected in his life: it needed not only to look like him but also to embody his joyful, compassionate, spiritually-magnetic personality.
As the project began, his face began to crudely emerge. I would set the piece aside for weeks until the right uplifting creative spirit would inspire the sculpting process again. As time went by—and more of the techniques of sculpture revealed themselves—I would apply them to the piece. This went on for several years.
At one point, a direct disciple of Paramhansa Yogananda, Swami Kriyananda, visited Austin, Texas on a speaking tour with a group from Ananda—a spiritual community founded on the teachings of Yogananda. I had read several of Kriyananda’s books and even visited Ananda prior to his visit. To have him there in person seemed an opportune moment to show Kriyananda the sculpting project of his guru and get his firsthand reaction.
As he was inspecting Yogananda’s wax face he commented, “There is a little crook of foolishness in the smile,” to be added, along with a few other suggestions. At the time, I did not realize how important these suggestions would become for the future sculpting of Yogananda’s life-size tribute.
Kriyananda’s companions added, “The smile needs to be bigger.” These suggestions too were applied to the sculpture.
When the portrait was complete, a couple of years later, a bronze copy was sent to Kriyananda at Ananda Village as a thank you for his help. When he opened the box he was deeply moved. Upon seeing the loving tribute to his master he fell to the ground with devotion. He called me to express heartfelt thanks for the gift.
Others in Ananda communities around the world began ordering and displaying their copies of the piece. One of these pieces now graces the entrance to Ananda Village, along with a plaque with a famous quote from Yogananda on World Brotherhood Colonies—his name for spiritual community:
“This day marks the birth of a new era. My spoken words are registered in the ether, in the Spirit of God, and they shall move the West… Self-realization has come to unite all religions...We must go on—not only those who are here, but thousands of youths must go North, South, East and West to cover the earth with little colonies, demonstrating that simplicity of living plus high thinking leads to the greatest happiness!”
Inspired by the acceptance of the Yogananda piece—I later sculpted a seated figure of the great yoga master, Babaji.
In addition to these two spiritually-inspired pieces, I felt a growing vision to create a “Yogananda World Brotherhood Park” with a Yogananda portrait as its centerpiece.
This vision took hold in my heart and grew over the coming years. Little did I know that this was a shared vision, as is often how it happens when the great ones inspire something beautiful to manifest on this Earth.
In 2014, Janakidevi, a resident at Ananda Laurelwood community, had a powerful inspiration to create Yogananda Gardens of the Northwest, featuring a larger-than-life bronze centerpiece sculpture of the yoga master. Knowing my previous work, she asked if I would be interested in becoming a part of this creation. This felt in tune with the Yogananda World Brotherhood Park I had been envisioning and was very uplifting: “Sure,” I replied, “I’ve wanted to be a part of a project like that for years now!”
We later had a group conference call via Skype with other Laurelwood members: Janakidevi’s husband, Byasa, and Laurelwood Center leader, Daiva. None of us had ever attempted anything like this before.
I was more than a little nervous about attempting a piece of this magnitude—especially of a world renowned figure—however, the desire had been there for some time and it seemed the opportune moment for it to be fulfilled.
It would take at least a year to complete the smaller model—a maquette—and then from that the larger clay model using traditional methods. Thankfully, I remembered hearing about a new, innovative enlarging technique using computer technology that greatly reduced the time and labor in monumental sculpting.
Our envisioning team discussed the possibility and did the research: there happened to be a place offering these services locally in Portland, Oregon! Byasa, a former engineer and co-author of the wonderful book, The Yugas, remarked, “Thankfully, we are entering the higher Dwapara Yuga Age of electronics!”
As a long-time student of Ananda, I admired how the community fosters happiness by building uplifting and beautiful places. I thought this would be a first-hand opportunity to immerse in the manifestation of such beauty. If there was ever a project that offered an opportunity to develop attunement with Yogananda, this would be it! There would be hours and hours of pouring over photographs and tuning into his presence.
Together, our sculpting team selected a powerful and inspiring standing pose for the centerpiece: Paramhansa Yogananda smiling and lovingly gazing out to each individual; with arms raised and extended in healing blessings to the world.
The present challenge was to sculpt such a figure and infuse it with the master’s presence. The many who would see the tribute would know Yogananda’s facial features and figure very well. During sculpting the question was often asked, “Does this look like the true form of Paramhansa Yogananda? Will his devotees accept this? Will this tribute be uplifting to those who experience it?”
There were times during the sculpting process when the devotional attunement would be so intense and the uplifting creative energy would flow so strongly that I would set the sculpting tools aside and just be in the moment. During such times, there would be a great feeling of love or peace in the creative flow of awareness. Afterwards, I would attempt to infuse these “energies” into the piece.
There are literally tens of thousands of refinements and details that go into a model like this. It is a series of upgrades and improvements that allow the finished form to gradually emerge. This piece took a year and a half to finish. During that time, it went with me on concert trips and holidays. I would make improvements at each place along the way...working on the hands, robes, feet or face.
Those on the sculpture team and within the Laurelwood community were very happy with the model—some visibly moved by its likeness and power.
The essential fundraising campaign was spearheaded by Janakidevi and husband Byasa. They energetically used letter writing, a crowdfunding campaign, video, website and social media, organized fundraising dinners, and traveled to other Ananda centers to raise the needed finances. They also offered 11-inch cast resin copies of the Yogandada figure for sale. All of these efforts succeeded in getting the word out about the project at Laurelwood, but wasn’t providing the hoped-for funds.
Byasa and Janakidevi then made a second courageous attempt the following year (2017): Basaya built a beautiful, informative website that told the gardens story, including wonderful graphics that outlined the progress of the fundraising efforts and a presentation that told the story of the gardens’ vision. They spearheaded another campaign push during Christmas season and on through Yogananda’s birthday. It was then that the tide changed and funds started pouring in for the statue and gardens from large-hearted supporters.
This included the particularly touching story of one devotee who raised an amazing amount of funds through stock trading and business principles—despite being in what would be a very limiting situation for most of us. He, along with his family partners, also made a large donation to the beautiful Temple of Light in development at Ananda Village. The hefty funds for the sculpture casting were more than met! Many hands and hearts had made a miracle! A favorite book of mine reads, “Miracles are love in action."
During all this the model had been scanned into a computer at FORM 3D in Portland to begin the enlarging process. We were amazed by the powerful technology they would use—the skilled technicians were able to sculpt with a stylus simply on the computer screen! This meant that they could add and take away form—making repairs and changes, even adding ready-made parts—right then and there.
With this amazing system in place, we realized that the highly-detailed face Kriyananda had helped with years before could be digitally grafted to replace the less-detailed face on the smaller model. This again would save the time required to re-sculpt such a refined face. On that small scale the detail would never compare to the larger face. Thus, the “Swami Kriyananda” face was scanned into the computer and perfectly placed over the original. It worked beautifully!
Now, the direct disciple of Paramhansa Yogananda and founder of Ananda, Swami Kriyananda, has a powerful and permanent influence in the standing finished bronze monument!
We watched awestruck as the data from the computer guided the large mechanism in another room to cut the foam blocks into forms that, when assembled, would become a large, standing likeness of Yogananda. When we were allowed to look at the finished, partly assembled blocks, we stood there stunned—speechless. There, finally, was an 8-foot figure of Yogananda standing before us!
A very devoted sculpture team member, Tom Shott, and others loaded the figure (with arms removed) into a van to transfer it to the Ananda Laurelwood campus for the next step: reapplying the surface detail with a layer of clay. A studio was set up in the Expansion Room at the campus. This was to become a most powerful, fun and creative process of learning and discovery, as well as attunement with Yogananda for the community there. Word about what was happening had spread around Laurelwood and guests were now starting to arrive at the studio to experience the figure of Master. All were struck by its size and powerful spiritual magnetism. Some remarked that there was a "palpable" presence to the figure. What great fun to secretly stand behind the towering figure and watch the reactions on the faces of guests. Later, the local newspaper arrived to cover the inspiring moment in history.
Upon completion of the foam and clay enlargement stage we celebrated with food and folk music at Laurelwoods’ wonderful Green Hill Café. Here is the place in the story where I’d like to say, “Thanks” for all the healthy and tasty meals the staff provided during my visits there. In fact, I received nothing but friendship and cooperation from the Ananda community all along the way.
With all of the technology, creativity, and music that week a live broadcast was set up in the studio to more broadly celebrate the finished piece. It was the first time that the entire community came together around the tribute—sparking the next evening a impromptu devotional kirtan surrounding the large figure of Yogananda.
In the face of obstacles, Yogananda teaches us to use our indomitable willpower to overcome challenges, trying just one more time to succeed until we finally do. It was in this courageous spirit that Janakidevi and Byasa continued to generate success magnetism until the moulds and casting could be completed!
Funding came in earlier to cover the complex and labor intensive process of bronze casting by Mike Maiden and his talented team of artisans at Maiden Foundry in Portland. It was there that we finally gazed upon the towering figure of Paramahansa Yogananda in beautiful, glistening bronze!
From the initial drawing to this moment were three powerful years—a testament to the dedication and application of Yogananda and Kriyananda’s teachings by everyone involved. We did not realize it at the time, but we were developing and using qualities of creativity, initiative, will power, dedication to serve, secrets of success and many other invisible and visible skills to get to this stage—not to mention the hidden grace and blessings of the Divine that flowed through every stage of the project...For none of us had ever tried anything like this ever before! We were—and still are—tuning into new knowledge every step of the way!
Early on it was predicted that visitors would come from around the world to experience Yogananda Gardens. Now, this prediction is starting to become a reality: attending the dedication are said to be visitors from India, Italy, and across the U.S.
It is very important to mention that throughout this whole process there have been family and friends sharing in my efforts:
In New Mexico, daughter Sierra and son Dakota were there at the very earliest stages offering love, support, and helpful ideas.
Rick and Diana Williams—fellow travelers on the path—organized a little weekly group conference call with students from New Mexico and Eastern U.S. to listen to Yogananda’s uplifting words. Rick made many helpful suggestions that found their way into the finished work.
Dana Lynn Anderson—world renowned artist and founder of the Awakening Arts Academy—helped with suggestions and through her infectious, creative spirit.
Lanna Smith—owner of the Ranch at Taos Gallery—whose nurturing friendship and practical support played a tremendously vital role in getting the sculpture to completion!
“What is initiative? It is a creative faculty within you, a spark of the Infinite Creator.
It may give you the power to create something no one else has ever created.
It urges you to do things in new ways.
The accomplishments of a person with initiative may be as spectacular as a shooting star. Apparently creating something from nothing, he demonstrates that the seemingly impossible may become possible by ones employment of the great inventive power of the Spirit.”
The Yogananda Gardens story has truly just begun. Who knows what the next, "new wave" of Ananda may create and achieve using the amazing new technologies of our emerging age? The inspiration from a visit to the gardens by an elementary, middle, or high school student may inspire the next Steve Jobs, George Harrison, Elvis Presley, James J. Lynn, Amelita Galli-Curci, J. Donald Walters, Judy Collins, or Leopold Stokowsky—all admirers of the great Paramhansa Yogananda.
As Walt Disney said about Disneyland, ”Disneyland will never be completed. It will keep growing as long as there is imagination left in the world.”
The gardens are a place where people may gather to enjoy, as Yogananda says, “the sweet sanities of nature.” Guests can read and understand, perhaps for the first time, Yogananda’s expansive vision of World Brotherhood. The gardens may provide the inspirational spark for discovery in many fields of life. A visit could lead to undreamed of achievements in art, business, community living, spirituality, health, education, the culinary arts, science and transportation—in short, any of the various disciplines of life. The visit just might provide the insights needed to develop the new, innovative solutions to the complex problems of our modern age.
Finally, in the words of Yogananda, may these gardens “guide us hand in hand through the gates of a fair new civilization.”