Mrs. Whitney statue to be revealed this summer

MARSHALL – Marshall’s newest public artwork is on track to be unveiled this summer. Sculptor John Sterner and supporters of the Mrs. Whitney statue project said Wednesday that the statue’s design is complete, and it’s in the process of being cast. The goal is for the finished statue to be ready for Sounds of Summer in August, said Marshall Community Services Director Harry Weilage.

The process of designing a statue to honor Mary Whitney, the woman who named the city of Marshall, has been ongoing for more than three years. The project was marked by tragedy when local artist Jim Dahl, the original sculptor, died suddenly in 2012. The Whitney statue committee was left with the question of whether to finish Dahl’s design.

“We decided not to modify Jim’s design or complete it,” said committee member Jim Swartz. It wouldn’t be quite the same to have a different artist finish the statue. “We wanted to respect his vision.”

Instead, Sterner was commissioned to design a new statue. Sterner had worked with Dahl in the past and was familiar with the Whitney statue project.

“I started drawing out thoughts,” and looking to period photos as a design reference, Sterner said. He also wanted to incorporate parts of Whitney’s background and history, and the story of Marshall’s naming.

In 1872, Mary Whitney was helping to prepare a meal for railroad developers discussing what the name of the new city should be, said committee member Ellayne Conyers. Whitney suggested that the town be named after the new post office, which was called Marshall after Minnesota Governor William Marshall.

In the statue, Mrs. Whitney will be pouring out water, as she did during the ceremony that baptized the city of Marshall with its new name, Conyers said. Sterner designed both the water and Mrs. Whitney’s dress and hair as if they were being blown by the wind.

“I like to have a little motion in my work,” Sterner said. “We don’t know if it was a windy day, but it was Marshall, so probably.”

Sterner said he also took the statue’s intended setting into account when sculpting it. The sculpture will be placed across East College Drive from the Liberty Park bandshell. Travelers on East College Drive will see different angles of the sculpture as the road curves past the 3rd Street connection.

“I kind of see it like a movie,” Sterner said.

“One of the things I like about it is it’s not what you’d expect to see,” Swartz said of Sterner’s design.

The statue is being cast by Bill and Zach Cole at the Anurag Art Foundry in Stillwater. Sterner said the Coles have done excellent work in the past. They had also cast the tiger mascot sculpture Sterner designed for Marshall High School.

Sterner said the Mrs. Whitney sculpture will be cast in many smaller pieces, and then welded together and smoothed out. As of this week, he said, “The head’s been cast, and the forearms and hands have been cast.”

The completed statue will be part of a larger vision for downtown Marshall as an arts and entertainment district, Weilage said. Projects like Memorial Park and three downtown murals will all help contribute to that vision, he said. The statue project received state Legacy funding, as well as funding from the Southwest Minnesota Arts and Humanities Council and private donations.

The finished statue will be dedicated during this year’s Sounds of Summer celebration, the week of Aug. 15, Weilage said. Weilage said bricks will be sold to help support the statue project, similar to the development of the 9/11 Memorial Park. Individuals and businesses can purchase a brick with donations of $125, $500 or $1,000. More information is available at the MAFAC office.