Pride. History. Heritage. These three words resonate in the Spirit of the Rivers sculpture being created by artist and Manitowoc native R.T. “Skip” Wallen.
“It answers that question of the untold story,” explains Joe Metzen, co-founder and vice president of the board of the 501(c)3 nonprofit formed to fund the project. “It’s an opportunity to share that history of the area.”
The sculpture was conceived in 2009 when Metzen asked Wallen to lunch. It encompasses culture, art, trade, people thriving, and the chance to educate the community and inspire people to create public art, Metzen shares. All 12 Wisconsin tribes passed a referendum of support for the piece of artwork, which has also captured national attention.
The sculpture started with male and female figures, but a canoe was added as a “connector between the two and how they make their way in the world,” says Metzen. A child in a papoose was initially part of the design, but was turned into a backpack to structurally support the canoe, which weighs almost a ton by itself, is hoisted 15 feet in the air and spans 20 feet in length. The third figure, the tribal elder, symbolizes the past and future. He also is the vehicle for carrying forth a treasured oral history.
Wallen will continue working on Spirit of the Rivers until August 2016.
“Once the sculpting is completed, molds will be made and shipped to a foundry in Oregon for bronze casting,” according to spiritoftherivers.org. “After assembly, welding, and patina are done, the figures will be shipped to the site for installation. Cast in bronze, the sculpture group will weigh over 3 tons.” The projected installation date is June 2017.
The proposed sculpture site is located on Mariners Trail along Lake Michigan between Manitowoc and Two Rivers near Forget-Me-Not-Creek, which is currently labeled as “unnavigable.” Jim Knickelbine, executive director of Woodland Dunes, is working with the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources and the City of Two Rivers on a full stream restoration project. Plans also are in the works to incorporate trees that would be used in making birch bark canoes and an educational plaque explaining the process at the site.
Funds for the sculpture have been obtained through grant writing, private and corporate donations, scheduled and open house visits at the donated studio space and an ongoing fundraising campaign. To learn more, visit spiritoftherivers.org.