Discovering Unconditional Surrender on the Suncoast

Published: Dec. 14, 2022 at 7:38 AM EST
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SARASOTA, Fla. (WWSB) - Art can inspire us or disturb us. The Suncoast’s tallest outdoor statue, Unconditional Surrender, has done both. But how was it made, and why?

Flashback to Aug. 15th, 1945. From Paris to Italy to Times Square, the world celebrated when Japan surrendered. Jubilant headlines and euphoric crowds as six years of warfare ended.

An iconic picture caught the world’s attention in 1945 -- Unconditional Surrender, at the end of World War II, How did this photo become a 25-foot-tall statue, and why is it here?

The statue is the vision of artist Seward Johnson. Claire Brown, the director at his workshop, told me that vision started in 2002.

“He was very interested in iconic images that the public would immediately recognize. And so he got the idea to make a sculpture of that image.”

First came a quarter life-sized sketch. Then, working with his assistants, and they created it with a computer modeling program. Seward was one of the first artists to use this digital technology for art.

Next came the life-sized model.

“They made like a basic composition of the two figures in the computer,” said Brown. “They milled just the body, the legs and the bodies completely unclothed.”

Milling is the process of using the computer model to cut pieces from a block of foam. He put real clothing on the models.

“Once they have it in the computer, you can make it any size you want. And he said, it’s so important to this century, this iconic image that I’m going to make it 25 feet so that it can go out and people can see it.”

Jesse Biter is a Sarasota businessman who petitioned to keep it here on the Suncoast.

“A lot of us fell in love with it, and we decided that it should stay,” said Biter. “So we made a petition to the city to keep it. We were fortunate that someone came out of the woodwork to pay for it. And it stayed.”

The original is back at Seward Johnson’s workshop in New Jersey. Sarasota and San Diego now own their statues, one is near Rome, Italy, and another coming to Omaha in 2023.

Tourists strike a pose and take pictures every day with this giant, iconic image, created by Seward Johnson’s innovative process.