- Associated Press - Friday, January 9, 2015

LADUE, Mo. (AP) - It was seeing the statue of David in person for the first time that caused Stephen Otten, a former Navy SEAL, to break down in tears after years of post-traumatic stress.

“It felt great, and my shirt was soaking wet,” said Otten, 37, of Belleville, who visited Italy shortly after leaving the military. He was amazed at the marble statue, which took Michelangelo three years to create. This was the Navy SEAL of sculptors, he remembers thinking.

And then he had another thought, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch (https://bit.ly/1rPg08Z ) reported. As a SEAL, the Navy’s special operation unit, Otten wondered if he could use the principles from his military work to be successful as an artist. And he wanted to see how fast he could learn to make his own version of David.

He spent the next couple of years studying and training as a sculptor at Southwestern Illinois College, an area art studio and Fontbonne University.

This month, Otten unveiled his statue of David at the home in Ladue of Ron Cameron, president of a local software company and sponsor of the piece.

Using unconventional methods and material - bonded marble - it took Otten about 19 weeks to make the statue. It is 80 inches from the foot to the top, much smaller than Michelangelo’s version. It weighs about 180 pounds, far less than a marble statue would.

His accomplishment comes as “American Sniper,” the new Clint Eastwood movie starring Bradley Cooper and Sienna Miller, is opening nationwide. The movie is about Chris Kyle, who was on Navy SEAL Team 3 along with Otten.

It is art that has helped Otten, the son of a Millstadt art teacher, to move past lingering issues of war and sniper missions in Afghanistan and Iraq. His father also is an artist. While he was deployed, his parents sent him art history books.

Gloria Schlueter, the CEO of statue.com, an Edwardsville company that sells sculptures from manufacturers around the world, said she had her doubts about what Otten wanted to do in creating the statue. His process is unique in this country, and it was an ambitious goal to determine the right formula, she said.

“I haven’t seen it done in the United States yet,” she said. “He worked and figured it out.”

Many people said it wasn’t possible, but Cameron wasn’t one of them.

He met Otten, who goes by the nickname “Otter,” through a mutual friend, and watched him work with a hammer and chisel, blood running down his arms as the pieces he was chipping away cut him.

“The passion really struck me,” Cameron said.

Cameron and Otten also have bonded over Michelangelo’s David, and what it means to them.

“A guy that had a mission and a purpose,” Cameron said. “It’s a philosophy of how to live.”

Otten plans to create 49 copies of his version of David.

Cameron and Otten’s partnership goes beyond the statue. The two said they are also teaming up to write a book about how Navy SEAL principles of persistence, hard work and determination can lead to success in business and in life.

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Information from: St. Louis Post-Dispatch, https://www.stltoday.com


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