In the late-90’s, something funny happened in Downtown Austin, and that something was Leslie Cochran.
Though Austin has long been known as a hippy town which lovingly embraces anything counterculture, it still took a bit of time to get used to Leslie. Most people didn’t know what to think of the six-foot-tall ginger-bearded man in a thong, heels, and a tube-top, pulling a grocery cart strapped to his chest like some kind of human ox. The large cardboard signs on either side of his cart loudly proclaimed that the police had beat him up and wrongfully arrested him. Who knows if people believed it or not? It was still a compelling sight.
As time passed, it became positively normal to see Leslie and his long, tanned, freckled legs crossed at the knee as he relaxed under the trees at the Capitol Metro stop at 6th and Congress, chatting up strangers over an illegal beer stashed inside a paper bag. Over the course of a decade, Leslie was not only accepted but regularly celebrated by locals and visitors alike. For a good glimpse into what Leslie was like, check out the video below.
So, when local architect and sculptor Bob Coffee was first commissioned to create a Leslie Cochran statue to place at the corner of 6th and Congress, that’s why he jumped at the opportunity. Unfortunately, the philanthropist who originally commissioned the work fell on hard times and couldn’t pay for the project to be completed. The Leslie Cochran Memorial would have been relegated to the history of unmade art if Bob Coffee hadn’t decided to go ahead and finish the sculpture regardless.
What you probably don’t know about Bob is that he has practiced architecture and civil engineering in Texas for over 35 years. From the East Austin Housing Authority to Big Bend, Hamilton’s Pool, and so much more, his work in engineering can still be seen all over Austin and greater Texas to this day. After retiring from the profession, Coffee pursued a love of sculpting that has taken his art far and wide.
At Eastwood Park, Coffee even has an award-winning statue of our favorite Winnie the Pooh buddy, Eeyore! Check it out…
Oh, I love Austin!
A neighbor gave the Eeyore statue in Eastwoods Park a pair of Christmas antlers. pic.twitter.com/cKeUwGTTIU
— Huey (@HueyFischer) December 26, 2015
But his work has traveled much, much father than that. To understand how much pride and passion Coffee has for his work, check out the model sculpture below of the lion Marjan from the front of the Kabul Zoo in Afghanistan…
Coffee became interested in sculpting Marjan after learning the story of the famous lion. In the 90’s, when Al Qaeda and the Taliban took over Kabul, they did quite a number on the Kabul Zoo. One foolish member of the Taliban climbed into Marjan’s cage, and Marjan mauled him to death. Following that, the fallen man’s brother threw a grenade into the lion’s den, maiming her and permanently damaging one eye, but not killing her.
When Coffee learned that Marjan, old and injured, had finally been laid to rest in 2002, he offered to build the memorial to her life. Coffee’s Master’s Thesis, as it turns out, was designing the non-existent Austin Zoo, and he still claims a lifelong appreciation for zoos in general. Even if he’s working on projects closer to home these days.
Speaking of, check out the scale model of his planned Leslie installation…
So, why isn’t this awesome Leslie sculpture already at its final destination, given this man’s impeccable credentials? The answer is litigation, and a daunting price tag of $30,000 — without a cent for labor (!) — to get it placed. Turns out, getting the materials, permitting, and approval from the Austin Arts Commission and City Council without a benefactor is remarkably expensive. Though Coffee got 704 signatures from Austinites interested in seeing the statue to fruition, he is still far in the red.
Coffee believes the project will be ready for welding and bolting-down in September. He does ask that if any other locals or philanthropists see the benefit of having an interactive Leslie Cochran statue downtown, they should contact him directly. A GoFundMe campaign could take this one a looooong way, but that’s not up to us.
We just can’t think of a single Austinite who wouldn’t want to take selfies, wait for the bus next to, or simply shoot the shiz with a bronzed Leslie Cochran. And that’s how we like it.