Sculptor Patrick Synar created and donated a one-of-a-kind bronze bell to celebrate the Oklahoma Military Academy on its anniversary. The bell’s other purpose is to ring in honor of former cadets when they pass, or on special occasions.
Synar, who graduated in the OMA Class of 1958, is known in the arts community for his bells and pieces he casts at his home base, Southwestern Bronze Sculpture Foundry. His pieces are now in museums such as the Oklahoma Cowboy Hall of Fame, and for sculptors such as Leonard McMurry, John Free, St. Clair Homer and Mueller Lux.
He’s made many bells of the finest metal available, including a steam punk tribute to the Liberty Bell. He has also produced gold jewelry for more than 20 years.
Now in his 80s, Synar is currently casting pieces for Cherokee National Treasure Jane Osti. He also cast Osti's larger-than-life bust of Cherokee potter Anna Mitchell.
“Making this OMA bell was a labor of love,” Synar said.
He wanted to honor not only the school itself, but also the concept of a military school.
“[I] especially [honor] the three basic attributes that were conveyed and taught: courage, honor and loyalty, which personally have been with me all my life, with loyalty in the lead,” Synar said.
The bell is a tribute because at one time, a bell was the most important object in the cities and villages, marking time and to honor important events such as births, marriages, deaths, a new king, a war's ending and celebrations. Its peal could guide a lost traveler to a village.
“When it rings, people can ask for whom the bell tolls,” Synar said.
This OMA bell and stand were made at Synar’s foundry near Tahlequah.
Chuck Tomlin, another OMA alumni, collaborated on the bell's wooden transport beam.
“It was designed to be carried to another location and rang,” Synar said.
Synar and Tomlin met at the former military school.
Born in San Diego, Synar moved with his family to Muskogee, Oklahoma, after World War II. His mother, Elizabeth, opened Synar Ceramics Studio, which became a factory in the 1950s, creating both decorative and functional art pieces and vases for florists, as well as the public. She was also a pilot.
"I thought all women flew airplanes and owned factories," he said.
His father, Stanley J. Synar, was a World War II Marine pilot and flying ace with the Black Sheep, and Synar recalls his years as the mascot at Camp Pendleton when he was 5.
“They let me turn the switch on the planes. I was their good luck charm. They’d pass me on to the next pilot,” he said.
As a youthm he worked in his mom's factory and picked up sculpting and mold-making skills. Synar remembers riding his bike and stopping in front of a large bronze statue of a World War I dough boy at the entrance of the Muskogee hospital.
"Looking up at it, I wondered how they made such an incredible thing," he said.
In college, he had a double major in Art and English.
"But I fell in love with bronze casting at a foundry class while attending Oklahoma State University," he said.
He considers his time at OMA “the best of times.”
“Chuck was my roommate and today is still a dear friend. We are both artists,” he said.
Both also studied bronze casting and foundry procedure at OSU.
“Chuck taught at the University of Tulsa and I opened a foundry. He has retired and I have not, and probably will not ever – at least that’s the goal,” he said.
The OMA teacher who made the most difference for Synar was Col. Ledbetter.
“Col. Ledbetter has to be at the top of the list. He gave Chuck and I our own art studio, a large room in the administration building, at the top under the dome,” said Synar.
He also liked his English teacher Bob England.
“He was a very intelligent man,” said Synar. “Capt. Brombough was an intelligence officer during WWll, a great guy with lots of stories.”
On a recent visit to the museum, he saw his bell and the new exhibits.
“My hope, as well as Chuck's, is that the bell would be used. Perhaps it could be rung on a special Sunday or to honor a fallen soldier,” he said.
Synar said the airplane is his favorite display in the museum.
“I want the community to understand how important these institutions were to our culture in the day,” Synar said. “I think the OMA museum does a stellar job, doing just that.”
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