Archive for Sunday, December 7, 1997


December 7, 1997


Elden Tefft will be the first recipient of the Governor's Arts Awards' Lifetime Achievement Award.

During his 40 years of teaching, researching and creating sculpture, Elden Tefft was revered by his colleagues and students. Now, seven years after retiring from Kansas University, he is being honored by the Kansas Arts Commission for his life's work.

At the 1997 Kansas Governor's Arts Awards in Wichita, Tefft will be awarded the Lifetime Achievement Award in the art educator category.

This will be the first time the achievement award has been given in the awards program's 23-year history.

"We leave any special recognitions to the panel's discretion," said Robert Burtch, public information coordinator for the commission. "Elden's award was primarily based on the nature of his work, career and the length of his service."

Sculptor and former Tefft student Jim Bass of Topeka nominated his teacher for the award.

Tefft says his career in sculpture never really began -- it was always a part of his life.

"I can't remember when I wasn't doing a lot of drawing," said Tefft. "When I was young, I lived on a farm and I was cutting a lot of wood and beating a lot of metal."

Tefft continued to study art throughout high school, when he was invited by local sculptor and teacher Bernard Frazier to be Frazier's studio assistant.

"That was where I got my first real introduction to sculpture," said Tefft. "I found that it was work."

After serving in the Air Force during World War II and experimenting with many art forms and mediums, Tefft went to Kansas University, where he earned a bachelor's degree in sculpture in 1949 and a master's degree in 1950. After graduation, he began teaching at the university.

During his 40-year teaching career, Tefft built two foundries at the university, traveled nationally and internationally studying sculpting and building foundries and established the university's sculpture degree program. His work on lost wax bronze casting brought him international acclaim and invitations to speak and teach.

In 1960, he founded the International Sculpture Center and Conference at KU, now based in Washington, D.C., and served as its director for 18 years. He also redesigned both the state seal and the Kansas University seal in the 1950s.

Along the way, he produced many works, including the bronze statue of Moses and the stone Jayhawk at KU, a bronze statue called "Prairie Spirit" for Baker University, a larger-than-life relief of a wagon train and oxen for the Olathe visitors center.

He is currently working on a limestone work, "Keepers of Our Universe," in Lawrence's Burcham Park; a school project; and a few personal ones.

Since 1990, Tefft has been a KU professor emeritus and full-time sculptor. He still teaches a weekly class at his west Lawrence studio.

Tefft, 77, and his wife, Mary, have one son, Kim, a goldsmith who shares the studio with his dad.

-- Selena Stevens' phone message number is 832-7165. Her e-mail address is

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