STURGIS - Bike builder extraordinaire Jesse Rooke said in a 2016 interview that he comes to Sturgis during the annual Sturgis Motorcycle Rally because of the people.

“After you’re done riding in the Black Hills, everybody congregates down here in the city of Sturgis,” he said.  “It’s an awesome event.”

He also said he enjoys walking up and down Main Street Sturgis during the rally because the cross-section of bikes gives him new ideas he might someday incorporate into a bike build.

Sadly, Jesse Rooke was killed in a motorcycle accident on the morning of April 5, off of Carefree Highway in Phoenix, AZ.

Fellow bike builders and friends are now in the planning stages of building a sculpture in his honor on iconic  Sturgis’ Main Street.

Rooke catered to a younger biker crowd, said Tammy Bohn, who met and worked with him during past Sturgis Motorcycle Rally events.

“I loved him. He was that guy next door - always smiling,” she said.

Bohn said Rooke had been coming to Sturgis for more than 15 years and had won some national bike shows staged in Sturgis during that time.

Rooke said once that his bikes were very personal to him. He grew up racing, so performance was a top priority when building a bike. 

But first and foremost, Rooke was an artist. His canvas just happened to be motorcycles, Bohn said.

Friends of Rooke’s contacted Bohn and said they wanted to do something in his honor. Former Sturgis Rally & Events Director Brenda Vasknetz reminded Bohn of the ongoing sculpture project in downtown Sturgis. In addition to the sculpture, there will also be an electronic kiosk which tells Rooke’s life story.

Tapped to create the sculpture is artist Benjamin Victor.

Victor has learned much about Rooke from videos and photos sent from Rooke’s dad, he said.

“First of all, it’s neat to see a guy who is that famous and in with the A-listers who is really down to earth,” Victor said. “You could tell that he had a real passion for not only creating these works of art, but also could talk about why he designed them a certain way.”

Victor isn’t sure of the final design just yet, but it will be fashioned with Rooke on one of his bikes and may be built so that someone could sit on the bike next to him. 

“Those ideas just draw the public into the piece,” he said.

Victor said it’s an honor to create a piece that honors another artist.

“The motorcycles he created aren’t just motorcycles, they’re a work of art. He’s looking at the lines, the colors, all the things that you teach as an art teacher. The elements of art are all in that motorcycle,” he said.

Rooke’s creative talent has Victor thinking about how he can do different things with the patina or the bronze of the sculpture. The patina is a green or brown film on the surface of a bronze, produced by oxidation over a long period of time. 

“I want to make something that captures people and makes them want to come up to it and go, ‘Wow!’” he said.

Local school children and others will get a chance to see Victor in action when doing the clay sculpture for the Rooke project. He plans to set up shop in a local building where people can come in and ask questions while he works.

“Not only does it teach, but it pulls a lot of the community in that maybe would only have nominal interest in the project normally,” he said. “If they were there during the creative process of it and see it in clay, then they become invested in it. They can’t wait to see it when it is installed.”

Sturgis Williams Middle School Art Teacher Kristi Cammack is excited about a collaboration with Victor. She plans to bring her students to his studio while in Sturgis, or have him visit her classes.

They hope to dedicate the sculpture during the 80th Sturgis Motorcycle Rally in August.

Bohn and Victor are not quite sure which bike or bikes will be memorialized in bronze, but things are beginning to fall in place.

“I think we are blessed to have someone of Ben’s caliber here to do this, and it’s awesome that he wants to be interactive with everyone in the community,” Bohn said. 

Victor, 40, a native of Aberdeen, is an American sculptor and Artist-in-Residence and Professor of the Practice at Boise State University. He is also the only living artist to have three works in the National Statuary Hall in the United States Capitol.

Many of Victor’s monumental works function as tributes to great historical figures or to contemporary heroes such as firefighters or those who have served in the military. 

Victor received his first large commission at the age of 23. Just three years later he became the youngest artist ever to have a sculpture in the National Statuary Hall in the United States Capitol. 

Art critics and organizations, including the National Sculpture Society in New York City, continue to recognize the aesthetic and conceptual integrity of Victor’s artwork.

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