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TERRE HAUTE, Ind. (AP) — Wabash Valley artist Bill Wolfe believes he has created his best work yet.
The accomplished sculptor — whose recent artwork included a celebrated 15-foot tall bronze statue of Larry Bird outside Hulman Center — has finished a statue of the founder of Indiana's oldest city, François-Marie Bissot, Sieur de Vincennes.
"This, I think, is going to be my best one yet," Wolfe said. "I think it's my crowning achievement as a sculptor."
The life-size statue stands, including its base, at about 6 feet 3 inches tall. He's taken it to the city that bears its name to be on display at the Knox County Public Library.
A French-Canadian explorer and soldier, Sieur de Vincennes founded the city between 1730 and 1732, according to a booklet published by the Vincennes Historical and Antiquarian Society. He is being credited for building a military post to control the fur trade and protect France's claims in the area.
"An officer in the French Troupes de la Marine, Sieur de Vincennes was a military leader and consummate diplomat, winning allegiance to the French crown of Indian tribes along the Wabash," the booklet says.
"In 1736, Sieur de Vincennes and his men were part of a joint French-Indian expedition against the Chickasaw Indians near present-day Tupelo, Mississippi. During the attack on the Chickasaw, the French were driven back with heavy losses. Sieur de Vincennes was among prisoners burned on a pyre March 25, 1736."
He, along with his father, who shares his name, also helped establish other early French settlements in the state, including in the areas of Lafayette and Fort Wayne.
This history and more specific accounts of Sieur de Vincennes' life were the resources used by Wolfe to create an image of the explorer. The finished product relied heavily on historical research of both the soldier and the era, Wolfe said. He got to know the man that Sieur de Vincennes was through his writings.
But from this commission, Wolfe encountered both a challenge and an opportunity. There exist no pictures, paintings or drawings of Sieur de Vincennes. In the past, Wolfe had pictures of the people he was creating statues of. This time, he needed to rely more on his imagination, which was part of the reason why it was more special.
"(With) this one, I can create this soldier myself in my own mind," he explained in an interview at his studio on Tuesday. "That made it both a challenge and fun to me. I can just let my imagination go and imagine what he looked like."
He imagined the lieutenant dressed in a French military uniform holding a tricorn hat and a musket. With intricate details in his clothing and face, Wolfe was going for the "effect" of showing Vincennes as if he were standing on the new frontier looking over the Wabash River in Vincennes, he said.
When it came time to make a face and a head, Wolfe had an interesting story to tell. "I'm gonna sound a bit spooky, but I sat down one night" and thought of François, or as he reluctantly put it, "channeled him."
"I asked him, OK, François, tell me what you look like," he continued, "That face is what he told me," he said as he pointed to the statue.
"To me, that's what Vincennes looked like."
The statue took Wolfe four months to create. He became excited about the project after hearing about it from Joy Biggs, a Lawrence County, Illinois, resident who has family ties to the city of Vincennes. Biggs came up with the idea of creating a Sieur de Vincennes statue.
Wolfe — whose artwork depicting many modern-day notable people can be found throughout Indiana and other states, including Massachusetts and Virginia — said this was his first statue from the frontier era. He likes to create statues of historical figures, he said.
"I was really enthused about doing this even more than I normally am," he said. "I love history, and this is local Indiana history."
The display of the statue at the Knox County Public Library is an opportunity to share and preserve the history of Vincennes, Indiana, and the life of Sieur de Vincennes, said Biggs, who spearheaded the project. "Our history should be told completely and accurately," Biggs said.
Biggs wants the project to be part of the state's bicentennial celebrations next year. She also wants to acknowledge the role of the French in its history, she said.
The statue will be on display until the end of July, Biggs said. Currently, there's an effort to raise more than $60,000 to cover the expenses related to putting the bronze finishing on the statue and to pay Wolfe's fees, she said.
Those who wish to donate can either drop off their contributions in the donation box by the statue at the library or by mailing it to Knox County Community Foundation, P.O. Box 273 Vincennes, IN 47591. Donors can put "statue" on the memo line, Biggs said. "No donation is too small or too large," she said.
Once the statue is in bronze and adequate funds have been raised, Biggs hopes the work will be permanently placed on an observation deck near the Wabash River in Vincennes.
Like Wolfe, Biggs — who recalled the countless hours she put to researching and organizing the project — also calls this an accomplishment she is most proud of. She said it is a work of art that will be around long after many of us are gone. "We feel like we came up with the best representation" of Sieur de Vincennes, Biggs said.
"It exceeds my expectations," she said of the finished clay model. "I am just blown away by how wonderful it looks."
Source: Terre Haute Tribune-Star, http://bit.ly/1G0JPIT
Information from: Tribune-Star, http://www.tribstar.com
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