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Artist behind Vietnam War monument to U.S. soldiers also a mentor to Pixar animators

New Vietnam War monument sculpted by former Pixar artist
New Vietnam War monument sculpted by former Pixar artist 04:06

This year marks the 50th Anniversary of the Paris Peace Accords, marking the end of U.S. involvement in the Vietnam War. This week, a statue honoring U.S. soldiers in Vietnam was unveiled at the Richard Nixon Presidential Library in Yorba Linda. The artist behind the sculpture has ties to the Bay Area and gets his inspiration from a very special place.

At almost seven feet tall and 500 pounds, installing the statue of a Vietnam solider was not an easy task. But nobody is feeling the weight of this moment more than Ron Pekar. At 80 years old, Pekar has been creating iconic works of art for more than five decades. 

"It's almost overwhelming for me, to see it kind of from where I first started putting little bits of clay here and there," he said.

It's the details that set him apart. It all starts with a sketch, meticulous research and then he starts to mold the clay. 

Sculptor Ron Pekar works in his studio. CBS

Pekar is known for his sculptures in museums, presidential libraries and massive stadiums. But you most likely have seen his influence in characters a bit more animated. For decades, he would split his time between sculpting larger-than-life works of art at his home near Los Angeles, to molding the minds of Pixar animators in the Bay Area.  

Jerome Ranft is a Pixar artist who helped develop characters for the movies Monsters Inc., Cars, Finding Nemo and Up, among many others. Ranft said Pekar helped him bring his work to life. 

"He always just wanted to push us to push our skills," said Ranft. "Beyond what we thought we were capable of."

In every great movie there is a love story and for Pekar it's life imitating art. His wife, Carol, is his muse. He first saw Carol in the window of a flower shop and it was all over. They've been married for 53 years and almost never apart.

She's his toughest critic. "I am not afraid to tell him, 'That's not right,'" she said.

Forty years ago, Carol was diagnosed with a rare degenerative eye condition called histoplasmosis. Surgery and injections only delay its progression.

"Everything is a little blurry, there are strips missing," said Carol. "You have to adjust your eyes to focus on."

But just because Carol is losing her vision, doesn't mean she doesn't see everything. She has been by Ron's side at every art unveiling and when the crowds are gone, she takes a moment by herself to walk up to the piece so she can take in as much as she can. 

"When everybody's gone I'll get up to it real close … and look at it."

As for Pekar, he's busier than ever. He has another project coming up at UC Irvine. 

"Ron wants to leave his art as many places as possible," said Carol.

And no doubt hell do it, thanks to a love that's stronger than even the most impressive of statues. 

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