Whitney statue project takes the next step

MARSHALL – The statue of Mary Whitney in Liberty Park was officially unveiled this summer. But as landscaping and sidewalks around the sculpture take shape, supporters of the project say there are more finishing touches being planned. Marshall Community Services Director Harry Weilage said Wednesday that this spring, a series of engravings and memorial pavers will honor the contributions of women in settling southwest Minnesota.

The statue of Whitney, an early Marshall settler who suggested the town’s name, is significant because it’s one of only a handful of statues of women in Minnesota. But Weilage and members of the committee that helped organize the statue project said it’s just a first step toward acknowledging the accomplishments of women in local history. They’re working with community members to help identify notable women and other “firsts” from Marshall’s past.

So far, examples that committee member Ellayne Conyers has found through research include Ursula Stone, the first woman to own land in Marshall in the 1860s, and Mrs. John Monroe, who in 1922 became the first woman sheriff in Lyon County. But, Conyers said, it would also be great to see local residents come forward with their own suggestions.

“There are a ton of those stories that aren’t here,” Weilage said.

Members of the public have an opportunity to help support the Mrs. Whitney statue project by purchasing pavers that will go around the statue. If people choose, they could honor a family member or a woman from Marshall history on the brick.

Weilage said the group will also be taking the topic of Marshall history to community and school groups in the future.

Weilage said supporters of the statue project are also working with Southwest Minnesota State University professor and writer Marianne Zarzana to find good quotes by or about pioneer women. Selected quotes will be etched into the sidewalks around the Whitney statue.

The history of the Whitney statue project, as well as the contributions of the artists who shaped the statue, will also be recognized through a three-sided informational kiosk, Weilage said. The kiosk will include an artist’s statement from sculptor John Sterner, as well as a remembrance of the late James Dahl, who helped start the original Mrs. Whitney statue design and helped inspire the final sculpture.

Dahl’s offer of time to sculpt a statue of Mary Whitney was a key part of getting the project up and running, committee member Jim Swartz said.

“That kind of gave us an impetus for doing this,” he said.

And in turn, Sterner’s mentoring Dahl as part of the original sculpture team helped factor into his taking on the project after Dahl’s death in 2012.

“That was part of the neat thing about it, was the transitioning from one artist to another,” committee member Becky Wyffels said. “And it was really special to me that it was a local person who helped start it.”

There will be a lot of people to acknowledge, committee members said. Many area people and organizations, including the Marshall Area Fine Arts Council and the Southwest Minnesota Arts Council, all helped make the statue possible.

More information on the pavers for sale can be found at the MAFAC office on 3rd Street, or at the Marshall city offices.