The pitchfork has long been a symbol of pride at ASU — it’s worn on clothing, plastered on images around campus and even with student hand gestures at games — but it hasn’t been until now that it stands permanently as a statue on the Tempe campus.
The over 6-foot tall bronze sculpture, located at the southeast entrance of Sun Devil Stadium, began as an idea in Art Pearce’s head.
Pearce, an ASU alumnus who graduated in 1975 and the donor of the statue, said he wanted to help create a monument to honor his grandfather, Zebulon Pearce, who attended ASU when it was called the Tempe Normal School of Arizona.
Driven by curiosity about his grandfather’s college days, Art Pearce said he searched through University archives and was surprised to discover his grandfather featured in photos of the 1899 football team.
“My grandfather graduated in 1899, he never once mentioned that he actually played football for Tempe Normal," Pearce said. “I've always wanted to do something to recognize that he played for one of the earliest football teams for ASU."
After graduating from the Normal School, Zebulon Pearce was the mayor of Mesa and was known for bringing beer to the city according to a profile of him published by AZ Central.
Zebulon Pearce was also a teacher for 11 years and is honored by the ASU College of Liberal Arts and Sciences' Distinguished Teaching Award for teaching excellence.
Art Pearce contacted Gabe Cagwin, the chief business development officer for Sun Devil Athletics, and suggested the creation of a pitchfork statue in honor of his grandfather. The idea was approved, but the former football coach, Todd Graham, had one condition: a statue of Pat Tillman, a former ASU student and athlete who died serving in the U.S. Army, had to be made before the pitchfork.
Cagwin said Art Pearce agreed, doing the pitchfork second would align with the new stadium renovations.
“It was a great opportunity to honor Pat Tillman,” Cagwin said. “The way he played, the way he handled himself — everything he stood for is what we want all of our student athletes to emulate."
Pearce agreed to donate both the Tillman statue and the pitchfork statue, and he knew a bronze sculptor who could complete both projects.
Jeff Carol Davenport, an art teacher at the Sandra Day O’Connor High School and an ASU alumna, has created many bronze sculptures in the Valley, including one of Zebulon Pearce in Mesa. As a graduate of ASU, Davenport said she was happy to help with the project.
“I've lived in Tempe since 1964, so I've grown up with ASU,” Davenport said. “It's part of my history. I wanted to create the fork a little differently than the images you see everywhere. I wanted it to be a three-dimensional sculptural image instead of just a blocky, square image.”
Davenport began working on the statues at Bollinger Atelier, an art foundry in Tempe. She brought models of the pitchfork to the athletics department, which decided on the design now sitting outside Sun Devil Stadium.
The Pat Tillman statue was erected in 2017, and after a year of sitting in the foundry, the maroon-and-gold pitchfork was unveiled on Aug. 31, 2018 — a day before the first football game of the season.
Hayden Gerber, a member of the ASU Spirit Squad and sophomore studying exercise science and wellness, said the pitchfork was the perfect symbol to choose for the second statue.
“The pitchfork embodies our school spirit,” Gerber said. “Everyone makes it with their hands at football games and in pictures, so it makes sense to have it on campus.”
Pearce said when his daughter graduated from ASU in 2013, he realized there wasn’t a good spot to get a picture with the school’s logo.
“I think that's what future generations will love,” Pearce said. “When they graduate in either December or May, they'll be able to go over to the pitchfork and have photographs with their parents.”
Davenport said that despite its ubiquitousness on campus, this pitchfork is extra special. She said she hopes it makes students feel like they're part of the Sun Devil Family.