Steven Posson's 'The Flying Mile' Celebrates the Bronze Age of Speed

Sculptor Steven Posson pays tribute to Albert “Shrimp” Burns in an investment-cast bronze statue called The Flying Mile.

| January/February 2013

  • Steven Posson Statue
    Steven Posson’s sculpture captures Albert “Shrimp” Burns at speed.
    Photo Courtesy Steven Posson
  • Albert Shrimp Burns
    Albert “Shrimp” Burns rode for Harley-Davidson before switching to Indian in 1920. He died following a race accident in 1921.
    Photo Courtesy Tod Rafferty

  • Steven Posson Statue
  • Albert Shrimp Burns

Sculptor Steven Posson is a practitioner of what might be called motoring performance art. His bronze figures don’t actually move or make noise, but motion, speed and excitement are implicit in their forms.  

The “Flying Mile” is a 6-foot long figure of Albert “Shrimp” Burns, arguably the most dramatic and popular racer of motorcycling’s golden age of the nineteen-teens. A rider for both Harley-Davidson and Indian, the California native was known for his grit, daredevil style and “impish grin.” At the Beverly Hills board track championship in 1921, he won the first race and crashed in the second, collecting an array of cuts, bruises and splinters. He spent the next race in the field hospital, then, his wounds dressed and bandaged, he reappeared to great applause and won the final race of the day. 

Posson works in the traditional method of investment-cast bronze, also known as the lost wax process. His latest piece depicts Burns on a 1914 Indian 8-valve going for top speed on a mile dirt track, both wheels in drift, powering into the straightaway. Machines like the Indian were basically reinforced bicycles with powerful engines. They were direct drive, the throttle set wide open with just a kill button for a brake. Top speeds were around 110mph. 

While the artist gives acute attention to the mechanical details, he spends even more time on the rider. “People relate to people,” Posson says. If the human shape is incorrect or poorly rendered, the defect becomes a distraction, a part that doesn’t quite fit.  

Posson prefers the impression of speed over pure realism. The spokeless, slightly elliptical wheels evoke early racing photographs, when men were fast and shutter speeds slow. Machine and rider become an integrated form in the thrust for velocity. Slight rooster-tails trace the tires’ hunt for traction, the rider’s eyes fixed on the perfect line. Posson’s sculpture captures the marriage of machinery, courage and dance that defines racing. 

Perhaps we can establish a label for this style, one that future art historians may find descriptive. Neo-classic moto-realism? That might work. In which case, upcoming students may refer to Steven Posson as Motoangelo, an early master of the form. 

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