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Meet the Artist

Get to know the sculptor of ONU’s newest monument

Meet Tad McKillop: artist, sculptor, metallurgist and the crafter of Ohio Northern University’s newest monument – a life-size bronze statue of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

A resident of Ann Arbor, Mich., McKillop has almost 30 years of experience in figurative sculpting and the casting process. His repertoire is varied, from small figures to life-size statues. All of his projects are 100 percent self-made, from clay to casting, crafted in his in-home studio and offsite foundry. He’s completed four monumental commissions, the last of which introduced him to ONU for the first time.

His history with ONU began in 2007, when he was chosen to fashion in bronze ONU’s founder, Henry Solomon Lehr. The statue has now become an iconic fixture at the eastern front of campus, standing regally as a physical embodiment of what ONU represents.

That’s why, when the University was looking to commission an artist with a life-size statue to commemorate King’s Jan. 11, 1968, speech at ONU, McKillop was at the top of the list. He was excited to be involved in shaping ONU’s exterior ambiance once again, but he knew it was going to be a tall order. 

My initial reaction, apart from just the excitement about doing it, was the terror of doing it because it’s Dr. Martin Luther King, and everyone knows what he looks like – everyone,” he says. “His face is everywhere, so it’s got to be really, really good.

McKillop describes his creative process as first bringing a project to 90 percent completion, and then spending a significant amount of time perfecting the remaining 10 percent. While creating the clay form of the King statue, he enjoyed sculpting the body in a more freestyle manner, but when it came to the head and face, every inch was meticulously sculpted and re-sculpted, until it matched his own lofty expectations.

When you step into McKillop’s studio, you enter a true artist’s workspace. Sketches, photos, paintings, mockups, clay models, molds and small sculptures adorn the entire space. It’s a place that cultivates creativity and authenticity. While he works, he actually engages with his subject, developing a relationship with them in a way. For the King project, he drew inspiration by listening to the audio recording of the speech he would be depicting, almost as if mentally inserting himself into that impactful moment in ONU history.

“It was just an incredibly moving speech,” he says. “He emphasizes how we’ve come a long way, but there’s a long way to go and there’s much to be done. I think that’s sort of encouraging and sad at the same time, but change is slow.”

He has worked on hundreds of projects, but this one in particular has been one of the most meaningful. He was first drawn to bronze “to enrich the lives of my fellow humans.” He hopes that every time someone walks past his statue on the campus of Ohio Northern University, they will think about all that King stood for and how they can carry on his legacy of peaceful change. 

It’s the most important project I’ve done, honestly,” he says. “He represents the best of us, or the best in us, the best that we could be. And I think those are definitely things that we need to hold up and celebrate – make a bronze, put it on a pedestal. I can’t think of a better person to memorialize.