Artist brings authenticity to Rattler sculpture at FAMU

Associated Press member exchange story from Tallahassee Democrat

Sculptor Brad Cooley was asked to capture the spirit and symbolizism of the university's mascot, the Rattler. (FAMU)

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – Brad Cooley Jr., whose seven-times life-sized bronze rattler sculpture recently ignited a social media stir upon its arrival on the campus of Florida A&M University, didn’t have to look far for creative inspiration.

“I worked from an actual rattlesnake my Dad put in the freezer about 10 years ago. I finally got a reason to use it,” Cooley said of his late father, mentor and creative partner, Bradley Cooley Sr.

“I pulled the measurements off the frozen snake so I would have details to work off to make all of my measurements correct. That’s why it looks so realistic ... I had a real model,” he said.

The 8-foot-tall coiled rattler sculpture was delivered to the front of the new $40 million, three story, 73,000 square foot Center for Access and Student Success in the middle of FAMU’s campus on Wahnish Way.

Construction of the center – which will house student services all in one location – is completed and has an occupancy date of Dec. 31. Ajax Building Co. is the construction manager.

Cooley’s creation was hoisted into place by crane and affixed to a concrete base. It is now covered with a tarp and sure to be a showpiece when FAMU officials hold a formal ribbon-cutting for the complex early next year.

Cooley, 50, is owner of Bronze by Cooley in Lamont, Florida, about 30 miles east of Tallahassee, in Jefferson County. The father and son team’s work is located throughout the south, including Tallahassee and South Florida.

In a January 2017 news obituary, Tallahassee Democrat writer Gerald Ensley described the senior Cooley as a “a self-taught, late-in-life artist who became the Seminole Indians’ favorite sculptor.”


The team produced 40 life-size bronze sculptures for the Seminole Tribe, working from their 130-acre ranch in Lamont.

Their work includes “A Walk In Time,” outside the R.A. Gray Building, which houses the Museum of Florida History, and “Seminole Family” outside Doak Campbell Stadium.

Their other works include life-size bronze statues of Ray Charles (Greenville, Fla.) and Otis Redding (Macon, Ga.) for the musicians’ hometowns.

In January 2019, Cooley Jr.’s bronze sculpture of Aurelío Angel Casañas, a Cuban immigrant and part-time musician, was unveiled at Casañas Village in Frenchtown.

It doesn’t take long to understand that the senior Cooley’s inspiration flows through his son’s veins.

“I wanted to make him proud,” Cooley said of the rattler piece. “It’s the first monumental-size I’ve done since he passed. My son, Holden, is following in the same footsteps as I did with my Dad (who also sculpted with his father). He worked on this with me. He’ll be the fourth-generation sculptor with the Cooleys.”

Cooley said he was approached about the concept by representatives of JRA Architects, who designed the CASS building. They were familiar with his work and FAMU commissioned the project, which the university said cost about $112,000.

Cooley said he met with FAMU representatives in January and started going over some design concepts. They came to an approval and he went to work.

“I did a couple of sketches and I started building the metal frame in February and then I hand-sculpted it over the next four months. It was completed about three weeks ago,” he said.


Cooley is immensely proud of his first work to grace the campus of FAMU. Part of the attraction is his sense of pride shared by those on campus and alumni across the country.

“I’ve watched FAMU grow over the years,” he said. “FAMU has a real strong fan base. Their alumni base is very loyal.”

William Hudson, Jr., vice president of Student Affairs, said the new installation is a fitting symbol as the university forges ahead with student success initiatives.

“The rattler embodies the spirit of the Florida A&M University community,” Hudson said in a news release. “This statue is more than a work of art. It serves as a reminder of who we are and what we can accomplish.”

Cooley said he’s hoping the 1,800-pound rattler will become an attraction for generations to come and complement the state-of-the-art student services complex.

“We wanted people to be able to walk up to this sculpture,” he said of the design. “I think it’s got a great design, very good curb appeal. Out of the 30 life-size and large pieces I’ve done, this is in the top three.

He added: “This is one of my favorite pieces, for sure. It’s got a ‘don’t mess with me’ look.”

Cooley credits Craig Talton, FAMU’s director of Facilities, Planning and Construction, and Jerome Swaine, project coordinator in the same division, for closely working with him.

“Craig Talton and Jerome Swaine were with me the whole time,” he said. “I want to thank FAMU for getting behind the piece as a whole and moving this forward.”