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Public invited to see artist making Johnny Cash statue for the U.S. Capitol

National Statuary Hall Steering Committee Chairman Shane Broadway and Arkansas House of Representatives Speaker Matthew Shepard watch as sculptor Kevin Kresse shows work completed at this point on his statue of singer Johnny Cash that will eventually go on display in the U.S. Capitol.
Michael Hibblen
National Statuary Hall Steering Committee Chairman Shane Broadway and Arkansas House Speaker Matthew Shepherd watch as sculptor Kevin Kresse shows his statue of Johnny Cash that will eventually represent the state along with one of Daisy Bates in the U.S. Capitol.

The sculptor creating a statue of music legend Johnny Cash, which will eventually be on display in the U.S. Capitol, is showing his work to the public this week. People can meet Kevin Kresse and see the eight-foot tall statue of Cash each afternoon through Thursday at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock’s Windgate Center of Art and Design.

He has spent more than a year working on the project. At this point, Kresse says he’s pleased with the progress being made.

“I feel good about the overall structure of the silhouette of him from all angles – that’s the huge part. I’ll be getting the guitar later this week and so once I put that on, that’ll change things quite a bit and I’m looking forward to that part, really seeing him come together as a complete piece,” Kresse said.

The clay replica of a guitar, which will be bronzed as part of the statue, will look like Cash has pulled it around his back. Former Arkansas House Speaker Shane Broadway is chairman of the National Statuary Hall Steering Committee which was created by Gov. Asa Hutchinson to oversee the project to replace the state's two statues. He says the guitar had been an issue for the Capitol architect's office because of concerns that people will want to reach out and touch it. That issue has been resolved, he says, through the planned placement of the statue in a prominent, highly visible location.

Kresse of Little Rock was selected by the committee in June 2021 to make the Cash statue. Sculptor Benjamin Victor of Boise, Idaho was chosen to make the statue of civil rights activist and Little Rock Nine mentor Daisy Bates. In April, Victor also spent a week meeting with people and showing his clay model of the statue at UA Little Rock.

On Monday, the first day for people to see the Cash statue, current Arkansas House Speaker Matthew Shepherd came to meet with Kresse and see the full size clay model for the first time.

“I’ve seen some pictures, and of course had seen the smaller version that was initially presented,” Shepherd said, adding that the statue was “very impressive and I look forward to seeing it in the [U.S.] Capitol.”

The clay model of Johnny Cash on display at the Windgate Center of Art + Design.
Michael Hibblen
The clay model of Johnny Cash on display at the Windgate Center of Art + Design.

In 2019, the state legislature – with a strong backing of Hutchinson – voted to replace the state’s current statues. They are more than a century old and feature attorney Uriah Rose, founder of the Rose Law Firm, and former governor and U.S. Senator James P. Clark. Each state has two statues on display in the Capitol, most in Statuary Hall.

Lawmakers had to decide who should represent Arkansas. During the debate, some legislators suggested Cash wasn’t a proper role model because of his drug addictions and sometimes erratic behavior. But it was noted that long after his death in 2003, his music continues to be very influential.

“I’m impressed with the project," Shepherd said Monday. "This is obviously our first time to go through this process so I didn’t really know what to expect, but look forward to hopefully having the opportunity to be in Washington sooner than later to see both of them be placed there in the Capitol.”

When Hutchinson signed the bill into law, he said he wanted the statues to be unveiled before the end of his term as governor. He leaves office in January. Broadway says officials are aiming to have a ceremony in Washington, DC in December.

“A lot of things can still happen,” Broadway said, “but we’re trying to do everything we can do on our end to be in a position to have a ceremony by the end of the year.”

Hutchinson is expected to visit with Kresse and see the Cash statue at UA Little Rock on Friday, Broadway said. The governor has so far only seen photos.

The priority at this point, Broadway said, is preparing to have the clay models sent to a foundry to be bronzed. The committee is also finalizing details about the three-foot base Cash will be placed on, which will include quotes or song lyrics. One will come from Cash’s landmark song “Man in Black,” Broadway said, while members of the Cash family will select the other.

Cash was born in the south Arkansas town of Kingsland in Cleveland County. At the age of 3, his impoverished family was one of 500 selected to live in the farming community of Dyess in east Arkansas which was created in 1934 as part of President Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal program. His boyhood home there was eventually acquired by Arkansas State University which restored the small dilapidated farmhouse and turned it into a museum that opened in 2014.

On May 6, Kresse got a chance to show the upper part of the statue to Rosanne Cash, one of Johnny Cash’s daughters. She was in Jonesboro to receive an honorary doctoral degree from the university for her support of the project to save the boyhood home.

In an interview with KUAR News immediately after seeing it, Ms. Cash said she was extremely pleased with how the statue looked.

“I came into the room and Kevin unveiled it and I was not expecting to feel as moved as I was and to see how much truth and intensity is in this work,” Cash said. “It's uncanny how he brought soul into this statue. It’s startling and beautiful.”

She said Kresse had sent photographs as the design evolved, with she and other family members weighing in on aspects of the face or body that needed to be modified.

“He was happy to make these tweaks and the way its turned out is just staggering. It's beautiful,” Cash said.

When reminded Monday of her praise for his work, Kresse said it made him emotional.

“That’s the biggest thing as an artist when you’re doing, especially a posthumous piece of someone, the first people that you want to be moved and to love the piece is the family,” Kresse said. “They’re going to be the toughest critics, they’re going to be the ones who know the subtleties of the person. And to hear something like that from Rosanne, I was just elated. It really made all the work feel like it all paid off for me as an artist.”

Kevin Kresse visits with a family Monday about his statue of Johnny Cash.
Michael Hibblen
Kevin Kresse visits with a family Monday about his statue of Johnny Cash.

While working on the statue, Kresse says he has continued learning more about Cash, who was one of the best-selling music artists of all time. Cash was known for having drug addictions and other issues, but Kresse says the singer’s openness only makes him admire Cash more.

“The thing I love about him is that he was so honest about all the issues and troubles that he had through his life, so every stone that I uncovered, it was another act of kindness and generosity,” Kresse said. “It just made me respect and love him even more than I did in the beginning. And so when you’re putting this much time and energy into a piece, to have it be of someone that you respect that much makes the whole experience so much more enjoyable.”

To see the clay model of Cash

  • Kresse will be showing the Johnny Cash statue at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock’s Windgate Center for Art and Design
  • 5644 W. 28th Street, Little Rock
  • Monday, July 25- Thursday, July 28, 1-4 p.m.
  • Group visits can be scheduled for specific times by emailing Kurt Naumann at kurt.naumann@sos.arkansas.gov. More information can be found here.
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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