Courtesy of Sharolyn Schofield
Courtesy of Sharolyn Schofield
John O’Connell/Capital Press
WEISER, Idaho — Chris and Sharolyn Schofield have carved a unique niche in the art world — making colossal sculptures of Idaho Russet Burbank potatoes.
Though the Weiser couple has thus far avoided the spotlight, their creations are recognized nationwide.
Tens of thousands of onlookers witness the dropping of their giant, glowing potato in downtown Boise each New Year’s Eve. And the 6-ton spud they created for the Idaho Potato Commission’s Great Big Idaho Potato Truck has traveled about 150,000 miles, visiting 7,200 cities while promoting the Idaho brand.
The Schofields — founders of Schofield Design — are building their fourth giant potato. It is a replacement for the IPC’s original oversized traveling tuber. The IPC introduced the truck in 2011 to celebrate its 75th anniversary, planning on a single tour but keeping it on the road ever since, based on its popularity.
IPC President and CEO Frank Muir initially worried the truck would be “hokey” if the potato wasn’t convincing. Instead, Muir believes it’s become part of “American pop culture.” He said people often drive hours for the chance to see the truck.
“One of the testaments to their ability to create authentic art is that the No. 1 question wherever the truck drives is, ‘Is it real?’” Muir said. “The fact that people would even think a 12,000-pound potato is real is amazing.”
Sharolyn is a certified structural welder. Chris grew up in the construction trade and has taken sculpting classes. He’s experienced in building indoor climbing walls and used a similar construction approach to make IPC’s first potato. The Schofields took the best features from several large Idaho spuds Muir sent them to make a composite design. Based on their sketch, they fabricated metal ribs, which they welded together and covered with plywood, and then foam, which Chris cut into a potato shape. They then covered the exterior with a thin layer of polymerized concrete. They developed a specialized trough to make the russet “skin,” used concrete dye for color and protected the sculpture with a sealant.
“We’re pretty critical of our projects,” Sharolyn said. “We want things to look just right.”
A hidden door at the front of the potato allows the truck crew to access the interior for storage.
Over the years, the potato has sustained damage from overhanging branches, frequent cracks caused by road vibrations and even boot prints made by NASA astronauts who stood on it during a parade. The Schofields made a repair kit and trained the truck’s crew to make on-the-road fixes. They give the potato a major touch-up following each national trek.
“In the beginning, it was just another job, but it’s been six years and it’s got a special place in our family,” Chris said. “We have our heart and soul in this one, and when we see it go, we’re sad.”
For the New Year’s Eve Potato drop, the Schofields created a low-budget foam model, which they later replaced with a fiberglass version for greater longevity.
IPC’s next potato will also be made of fiberglass, cutting out about half the weight.
They’re taking measurements from the original potato so the new spud will fit perfectly into a square frame, mounted on springs, that Sharolyn designed and welded to affix the spud to the truck’s flatbed. Special LED lighting on the truck will illuminate the new spud during night parades. The potato should be finished by March, in time for the truck’s next tour.