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Finalists to make Johnny Cash and Daisy Bates statues for U.S. Capitol present their visions

Sculptor Benjamin Victor shows a model of what he envisions the Johnny Cash statue would like during a meeting Wednesday.
Arkansas Citizens Access Network
Arkansas PBS
Sculptor Benjamin Victor shows a model of what he envisions the Johnny Cash statue would like during a meeting Wednesday.

Ahead of an expected decision Monday, five artists who want the honor of making statues of civil rights leader Daisy Bates and music legend Johnny Cash that will be displayed in the U.S. Capitol presented models Wednesday of what they envision their works would look like.

Members of the Bates and Cash families had previously provided guidance on what they want the statues to include, with general similarities between the proposals. During a series of presentations throughout the day, the five sculptors also explained to members of the Arkansas National Statuary Hall Steering Committee and the Capitol Arts and Grounds Commission what inspired their work.

Each state is allowed to have two statues inside Statuary Hall. Legislation signed into law by Gov. Asa Hutchinson in 2019 called for replacing the current century-old statues, attorney Uriah Rose and former Gov. James P. Clarke, with Bates and Cash. Hutchinson has said he hopes to have the statues installed in the U.S. Capitol before the end of his final term in January 2023.
Finalists for the Bates statue are Jane DeDecker of Loveland, Colo., J. Brett Grill of Grand Rapids, Mich. and Benjamin Victor of Boise, Idaho.

Victor said he thought of his own experience attending a multicultural high school when researching Bates, who was a writer and activist who mentored the Little Rock Nine when they desegregated Central High School in 1957.

“When I think about Daisy and her life and her life and her accomplishments, I can’t help but remember the life-long friends that I had from school growing up in an integrated school with every race, every color, every ethnicity, every religion in the city schools that I went to. Well that would not be a reality without Daisy’s life and legacy,” Victor said.

He is the only finalist for both sculptures, telling members it wouldn’t be a problem for him to finish both sculptures by the Dec. 31 deadline this year as he would clear everything off his schedule to finish both if chosen.

Regarding Cash, Victor said he was inspired by the power of what a showman Cash was, while overcoming adversities in his life like drug addiction.

“For anybody who’s made mistakes in their life and wants to become something great, do something great, and knows their potential isn’t ruined just because of those mistakes. So that really spoke to me about this piece and I just put so much of my heart into this,” Victor said.

Also vying to make the Cash statue are Kevin Kresse of Little Rock, who is the only Arkansan among the five artists, and Craig Campbell of Wichita, Kan.

Kresse said part of what motivated him in his design, which depicts a somber Cash carrying his Bible in one hand and with his other a guitar, was the horrific accident that killed Cash’s older brother Jack in Dyess, Ark. when both were teens. Jack Cash was nearly cut in half while working with a table saw.

“The tragic death of his hero and big brother Jack in this horrible accident at a sawmill and to see him die and not only that, to have his father pick him up and then show him the bloody clothes and tell him that should have been him instead of his brother. How you get over that, I have zero idea,” Kresse said.

Kresse previously made a bronze bust of Arkansas-native Levon Helm of The Band which was unveiled in 2018 in Phillips County.

Craig Campbell of Wichita, Kan. touted his work as head sculptor on the Hobbit films. He said his vision of Johnny Cash came from the fact that he had been born and raised on a farm, and was raised on Johnny Cash’s music. He titled his piece “Johnny Cash: Power & Servitude,” and sculpted the entire thing using guitar pics and other various guitar tools.

The statues will be on display to members of the committees and the Arkansas General Assembly through Friday, with Gov. Hutchinson expected to also view them. Committee members are expected to take final votes on who will make each statue on Monday.

Cash’s daughter Rosanne Cash attended the 2019 bill signing ceremony. In an interview with KUAR News afterward, she said she was pleased to see her dad honored with Bates.

“I think it’s fitting that he is there with Daisy Bates,” Rosanne Cash said. “I have tremendous admiration for this woman, her civil rights activism and her sense of justice, and for them to be standing together, it means a lot to the family. I can’t wait to stand in Washington and see this unveiled."

Christine Jones was an intern with KUAR News in the summer of 2021 as part of the George C. Douthit Endowed Scholarship program. She is a writer, editor, and student in the UA Little Rock Professional Technical Writing MA Program. She also works as a Graduate Assistant for The College of Humanities, Arts, Social Sciences, and Education at UA Little Rock, as the Communications Assistant.
Michael Hibblen was a journalist for KUAR News from May 2009 — December 2022. During his final 10 years with the station, he served as News Director. In January 2023, he was hired by Arkansas PBS to become its Senior Producer/ Director of Public Affairs.
Daniel Breen is News Director of Little Rock Public Radio.
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