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Events planned with sculptors of Daisy Bates, Johnny Cash statues

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Brian Chilson-Arkansas Times
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Benjamin Victor
Kevin Kresse (left) works on a small model of the Johnny Cash statue at his studio in North Little Rock, while Benjamin Victor poses with a full size clay model of the Daisy Bates statue which he'll be working on next week in Little Rock.

Work is progressing on statues of civil rights leader Daisy Bates and singer Johnny Cash which will eventually represent Arkansas in the U.S. Capitol. In the coming week, the artists selected to create the statues are scheduled to take part in events at the Windgate Center of Art + Design on the campus of the University of Arkansas at Little Rock.

The Arkansas Secretary of State’s office announced the public is invited to watch as sculptor Benjamin Victor works on the 7-foot-6-inch clay model of Bates each afternoon on Monday-Friday. Previous work on the model, which will be used to cast the bronze statue, has been done in Victor’s home studio in Boise, Idaho.

Meanwhile, work is advancing on the statue of Cash. Sculptor Kevin Kresse says after getting final approval of the design from the U.S. Capitol architect, he took a three foot moquette of the statue to a foundry in Norman, Oklahoma this month to create the eight-foot clay model. After a year of laboring on the project, Kresse says he’s finally content with the design.

“No one can kick yourself harder than yourself as far as an artist is concerned, but I finally got to a point where I kept circling and circling [the model] and…. I feel alright about this now,” Kresse said in an interview with KUAR News. “That’s a rare place for me to be, but I feel good about things.”

Kresse and Victor are to discuss the process of creating the statues during an event hosted by the Political Animals Club on Wednesday from 5 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. at the Windgate Center. Reservations are required for the event, which costs $25 and can be made here.

Each state has two statues on display in Statuary Hall at the U.S. Capitol. Arkansas’ are more than a century old and are of attorney Uriah Rose and former governor and U.S. Sen. James P. Clarke.

Asa Hutchinson Rosanne Cash Johnny Cash Daisy Bates
Michael Hibblen
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KUAR News
Among those watching as Gov. Asa Hutchinson signed legislation into law on April 11, 2019 to replace Arkansas' statues were Cash's daughter Rosanne, sister Joanne Cash-Yates and Bates' goddaughter Jan Hill Brown.

In 2019, with the strong backing of Gov. Asa Hutchinson, the state legislature approved replacing them with Cash and Bates. During a bill signing ceremony, Hutchinson was joined by members of the Cash family and the goddaughter of Daisy Bates. The governor has said he hopes the statues can be unveiled by the end of his term in office in January.

Bates played a key role in the Arkansas civil rights movement. She and her husband L.C. Bates started the Arkansas State Press in 1941, which would become the largest Black-owned newspaper in the state. In 1957, she helped organize the desegregation of Little Rock's Central High School by nine Black students.

Cash was born in Kingsland, Ark. and was 3-years-old when his family was one of 500 selected to live in the planned farming community of Dyess, which was created as part of President Franklin Roosevelt's New Deal. Cash launched his music career at Sun Records in Memphis with the release of his first record in 1955. He would go on to sell more than 90 million records worldwide.

Johnny Cash Daisy Bates
Library of Congress/ National Park Service
Johnny Cash (left) behind his boyhood home in Dyess, Ark. and Daisy Bates in front of Central High School in Little Rock.

The design for the Bates statue was the first to get approval. Some issues involving the Cash statue took longer to be resolved. The singer is featured holding a Bible in one hand, with a guitar pulled around his back. Kresse said he's eager to begin making modifications to the full-size model.

“That’s a totally different animal," he said. "I have done a life-and-a-quarter bust and I’ll probably end up using that head on the final piece. But once I put it on there in context with the pose and everything and being large, I’m going to have to reassess everything. So there might be some minor tweaks with focusing the eyes or just the intensity of the eyebrows or just whatever I feel like needs to happen to make the larger piece work."

CASH STATUE TO BE IN EMANCIPATION HALL

During the approval process with U.S. Capitol officials, it was decided the statue should be placed in Emancipation Hall rather than Statutory Hall. Part of that was due to the height of the eight-foot statue, which will be 11-feet tall on the pedestal nearing the ceiling of Statuary Hall.

“I couldn’t be more thrilled with the location,” Kresse said. “The people who are queuing up to get their tickets to tour the Capitol will basically be waiting, looking at him.”

Cash would join other more modern figures encapsulated in bronze including Helen Keller, missionary Eusebio F. Kino, astronaut John “Jack” Swigert and teacher Maria L. Sandford. Kresse said the new location will allow Cash to stand out.

“Emancipation Hall was just finished in 2008, so there’s just not a lot of competition for the visuals there,” Kresse said. “There’s not your typical old politicians from the 1800s."

As the design has evolved, Kresse said he has been collaborating with Cash's daughters. Most recently, the discussion has focused on selecting a quote or lyric from Cash to put on the pedestal. But deciding what to feature has been difficult.

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Brian Chilson
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Arkansas Times
Kevin Kresse working on the Cash statue at his studio in North Little Rock.

“He authored several books, besides hundreds of songs to pick lyrics from and things that help define him for future generations that wouldn’t know him as well as we know him now at this present moment,” Kresse said.

Gov. Hutchinson formed the Statuary Hall Steering Committee to work with the state Capitol Arts and Grounds Commission to select the artists, then oversee the process. Former state legislative leader Shane Broadway has served as chairman of the committee.

“It has been a really interesting process. I’ve never been involved in anything like this and probably never will be again. But just talking to the artists and just their level of talent. They’ve got talent in their pinky finger than I’ve got in my whole body and just the way they can envision things," Broadway said in February during an interview aired on KUAR's "Not Necessarily Nashville."

He noted one concern at the time about the Cash statue was the placement of the guitar, which would leave it potentially within reach of people passing through the Capitol.

“You’re not supposed to be very close to these statutes, but somebody trying to get close to the statue and playing with the guitar tuners," could damage the statue, Broadway said.

WATCHING VICTOR WORK ON THE BATES STATUE

The public can watch Victor work on the Bates statue at the Windgate Center of Art + Design on the campus of the University of Arkansas at Little Rock, 2801 S. University Avenue.

The days and times are:

  • Monday, April 25, 3-7 p.m.
  • Tuesday, April 26, 1-5 p.m.
  • Wednesday, April 27, 1-5 p.m.
  • Thursday, April 28, 1-5 p.m.
  • Friday, April 29, 1-3 p.m.

The statue of Bates will be Victor's fourth to be placed in the U.S. Capitol. In 2005, he became the youngest artist to have a work in Statuary Hall when a statue of Nevada tribal activist Sarah Winnemucca was dedicated. Victor's statue of Iowa agronomist Norman Borlaug was unveiled in 2014, followed by the Statue of Standing Bear for Nebraska in 2019.

This story has been revised with the hours corrected for when the public can watch Victor work on the Bates statue.

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