Final modifications being made for Arkansas’ statues of Daisy Bates and Johnny Cash
Sculptors creating statues of Arkansas civil rights pioneer Daisy Bates and legendary singer Johnny Cash, which will represent the state in the U.S. Capitol, are working to finalize their designs so they can be submitted to federal officials for approval.
The Arkansas Capitol Arts & Grounds Commission met via Zoom Thursday with the artists selected to make the statues, discussing subtle changes that have been made or are being proposed to make them more accurate. Those involved have been studying old photos and films to consider any final modifications.
For Bates, who is best known for mentoring the nine Black students who desegregated Central High School in 1957, that included questions about how her hair sat on her head, whether she should be in heels rather than flat shoes, and even her ring size. There was the suggestion the newspaper Bates is holding have an article that includes the names of the nine students.
Sculptor Benjamin Victor of Boise, Idaho said having the names would be good, as long as they’re included in an actual article from the time of the desegregation.
“I think that the [U.S. Capitol] architect’s office and the curator will have a problem with it if we do something fictional on the newspaper and sort of piecemeal something together that we want to put on there,” Victor said. “If we use a facsimile of a real article and we get a scan of it and then I faithfully copy that and inscribe it onto the clay and therefore the bronze on the final one, I think [the steering committee] will approve of it because it’s historically accurate.”
Victor noted there was criticism of a quote carved into the side of a memorial on the National Mall in Washington, DC for Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. which was opened in 2011. The quote was paraphrased to make it more concise, but some said the action changed its meaning.
For the Cash statue, sculptor Kevin Kreese of Little Rock said he has made subtle changes to the face, moving the mouth closer to the nose and giving it more of a curl. The singer is now more barrel-chested than the original mockup of the statue and his legs have more of a walking look.
“It’s so interesting because you’re just talking about the smallest little movements, and that’s what can make you kind of crazy as a sculptor because you’re chasing your tail all the time,” Kreese said. “It’s these little bitty things, but they make all the difference in the world.”
One of the singers’ four daughters, Tara Cash Schwoebel, took part in the meeting and said while the first clay mockup of the statue was good, she could see the differences in the latest version.
“On behalf of the family, we’ve all told you this, but I’d like it publicly-known that we are incredibly pleased with your ability to see our father how we saw him and it’s incredible. We’re just very, very grateful,” Schwoebel said.
“Well, don’t make me start crying,” Kreese responded.
“You’re doing an amazing job,” Schwoebel continued, “we’ve had a hard time finding anything wrong with anything.”
“Well you’re sweet,” Kresse said. “I’ve found things that I’ve been working on and I’ll show you that, but thank you so much. It means more than you know.”
The goal is for the state to submit photos of the final mockups for the statues to the National Statuary Hall Steering Committee within the next 30 days and hope they are approved.
Each state has two statues in the U.S. Capitol.
In 2019, the Arkansas General Assembly approved legislation to replace the state’s current statues of attorney Uriah Rose and former governor and U.S. Sen. James P. Clarke, which are more than a century old.
Gov. Asa Hutchinson had pushed for replacing the statues, saying while both were honorable men, it was time they were replaced with people who had been influential in more modern times. He was joined at the bill signing ceremony by the families of Bates and Cash. Hutchinson has said he hopes the new statues will be unveiled in Washington by the end of next year before his term as governor ends.