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Final models of Daisy Bates, Johnny Cash statues to be submitted to U.S. Capitol for approval

Arkansas Secretary of State
Sculptor Benjamin Victor discusses final modifications he made to the statue of civil rights activist Daisy Bates during a meeting Monday.

The replacement of Arkansas’ two statues in the U.S. Capitol with ones of civil rights activist Daisy Bates and singer Johnny Cash is one step closer to becoming a reality. On Monday, two state committees overseeing the process met with the sculptors making the statues, then voted to submit final scale models to federal officials for approval. A decision isn’t expected for at least a couple of months.

A maquette of the Bates statue will be submitted this week, while the one for Cash likely won’t be ready until next week, members said. Each model must be approved by the architect’s office of the U.S. Capitol before full-size bronze statues are made for placement in Statuary Hall.

The sculptors, who were selected in June, discussed final revisions that have been made since the last meeting of the Capitol Arts and Grounds Commission and the National Statuary Hall Steering Committee on Sept. 9.

For Bates, who organized the nine Black students who desegregated Little Rock’s Central High School in 1957, concerns about her statue focused primarily on the accuracy of her hair. Sculptor Benjamin Victor of Boise, Idaho told members via Zoom that he had “redone the hair according to the instructions and some photos that were provided, which were very helpful, and I think you’re going to like what you see.”

Sculptor Benjamin Victor shows photos of Daisy Bates that he used to refine the look of her hair in his statue.

Victor said he had not changed the heels of Bates’ shoes on the model, which was another issue brought up by members of the committees in September. But Victor said he could discuss that with the architect’s office and didn’t believe it would be an issue. Details about an article in the newspaper Bates is holding have also not been worked out. Members have said they would like a replica of an actual article about the desegregation to be featured.

Victor shared with the committees that since the previous meeting he had become infected with COVID-19, with the illness slowing his work on the project. But Victor said he has since recovered.

By a unanimous voice vote, members of the committees accepted the maquette of the Bates statue and to submit it for federal approval. Attention then turned to the Cash statue.

Sculptor Kevin Kreese of Little Rock told members of the committees that since the last meeting he had been focusing much of his revisions on the singer’s stance.

“It was kind of difficult,” he said, “for you all to imagine how it looked when I was talking about the legs. That was really the one thing that was personally sort of bothering me.”

Regarding his earlier designs, Kreese said, “I think you can see the knees were more of an open stance. He was a little bit more of a knocked knee,” which is a condition in which knees tilt inward while the ankles remain spaced apart.

Sculptor Kevin Kresse used a computer to show the evolution of his design of the Johnny Cash statue.

Kreese said he had also been studying how Cash’s body had a “thinness that came up, and then the stockiness of his torso.”

The shape of a guitar, which is slung around Cash’s back, and it’s proportion to the singer’s body, is also a concern.

“When it comes to the Capitol approval,” Kreese said, “I’m making sure that everything is within the radius of the base and that it being behind, I’m thinking it should be fine, but that’s my real concern. That’s the only thing I could see them really going after would be the guitar since it’s separate from the body.”

Members of the committees then unanimously approved the Cash statue. They said they don’t expect to get a decision about whether the statue designs will be approved until sometime in the new year. Gov. Asa Hutchinson, who advocated in 2019 for Bates and Cash to be featured, has said he hopes the statues can be unveiled in Statuary Hall by the end of next year before he leaves office.

Each state has two statues on display, with Arkansas’ current ones being more than a century old featuring attorney Uriah Rose and former governor and U.S. Sen. James P. Clarke. The Arkansas General Assembly approved replacing them during the 2019 regular session.

At the end of Monday’s meeting, National Statuary Hall Steering Committee Chairman Shane Broadway praised members for their relatively quick work.

“To tell the governor and Secretary [of State] and everyone from the beginning that here we are, ready to submit maquettes to the Capitol architect, I mean it’s pretty amazing.”

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.
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