MORGANTOWN – When Mountaineer fans head into the West Virginia University Coliseum next week for the season’s home opener against the Virginia Military Institute, they’ll see more just the school’s current basketball stars.
The stunning 6-foot-6 statue of WVU legend Jerry West that greets visitors at the coliseum’s Blue Gate is hard to miss.
Its creator, West Virginia native Jamie Lester, says there’s no doubt that sculpture is the work he was cut out to do.
“Very early on, I started getting set apart for my ability to draw,” explains Lester, who grew up in Southern West Virginia, the son of a hard-working coal miner. He is now one of the nation’s most highly regarded bronze artists.
Lester, a single father of three who turned 38 in September, said some advice his father gave him had the biggest influence.
“I must have been 8 or 9 and I’d won an award for a drawing I’d done,” he said. “My dad took me aside and told me that God had given me a special talent and that if I didn’t use it, I wouldn’t be allowed to keep it. I knew he believed that wholeheartedly, and that always stuck with me.
“My dad’s gone now, but I still think about what he said almost every day. From that moment on, there was never any question that I’d spend my life creating art.”
A native of Oceana in Wyoming County, Lester first came to Morgantown to study fine arts at WVU.
Initially, he focused on drawing, painting and printmaking. Then in his sophomore year, he took a pottery class – and immediately felt a pull to the medium.
“Creating a portrait of someone in 3-D, art that you have to walk around to fully take in, it’s just an incredible feeling,” Lester said. “Ever since that the first experience in clay, I’ve been hooked.”
Two sculptures with West Virginia ties are on Lester’s plate now, both in the fundraising stage.
One is a seated depiction of the late Don Knotts, the Morgantown native best known for his portrayal of Sheriff Andy Taylor’s inept but enduring sidekick Barney Fife on “The Andy Griffith Show,” a CBS hit that debuted in 1960.
The other is a statue of Morgantown’s founder and onetime tavern owner, Zachquill Morgan, who was born in 1735 in Berkeley County, one of the sons of Col. Morgan Morgan, credited as the first white settler in what today is the state of West Virginia.
He’s also handling projects for clients across the nation, including a statue of retired four-star general Colin Powell that’s destined for New York. But, Lester said, pieces he creates for West Virginia clients always are special.
“If I can do work here and know it’s going to be seen every day by my fellow West Virginia citizens, that means a lot to me,” he said. “It feels good to use my talents close to home.”