OREGON – Inspiration is rarely in short supply for artists, and the same goes for Oregon native Steven Carpenter. All he needed was enough time.
He grew up in the artsy river city and had always hoped to create one of the 10 sculptures in the Community Arts Legacy’s series of pieces, but his stonescaping business in York, Maine, kept him too busy during the summers.
When his brother, Craig, a member of the Community Arts Legacy board, told him the sculptor of the final piece in the series would be granted 2 years for total production, Steven jumped on the opportunity and pitched his concept to the board.
Saturday afternoon, his 2-dimensional/3-dimensional bronze depiction of Oregon founder John Phelps was unveiled on the west side of the Oregon Coliseum property, the former home of the community pool. The piece depicts Phelps along the Rock River in 1833, after a long journey that brought him to his new home in Oregon.
“This was emotional on many, many levels,” Steven, 63, said. “This was my first large commission, for one thing. That makes it very special, but this being my hometown makes it so much more special.”
Several local fixtures, including another prodigal son, John Lindhorst, spoke during the hourlong dedication ceremony. Lindhorst, a former Oregon Public Schools teacher who owns Ukulele Station in town, spent 19 years in Hawaii and San Diego before retiring in 2014 and moving back home.
“There was so much beauty out there, but I came back here because of the beauty of the people,” he said.
He stepped onto his soapbox momentarily to urge that politics be put aside for the sake of saving the crumbling Eternal Indian statue at Lowden State Park, then played “The River Runs Through Me” on a ukulele.
The Black Hawk statue, as it's know to many, is a mammoth work that overlooks the Rock River, and it's one of a few sculptures that triggered a movement that’s brought more than 20 sculptures to Oregon.
Crucial to that movement was Richard Adams’ vision for what became the nationally known Field Arts Project in 1998. For years, many artists from throughout the nation spent a week in Oregon to focus on the theme Art and Agriculture – often by mowing fields into images of art best viewed from the air.
The Community Arts Legacy board presented the idea of the 10-statue series to the Fields Art Project 12 years ago, and Saturday’s gala marked the culmination. Several sculptors of the previously dedicated pieces were among the 150 or so in attendance.
“Well, this is it,” said Jeff Adams, a local sculptor and owner of inBronze Foundry in Mount Morris, as well as Richard’s son. “This is the last day, isn’t it?”
He introduced the sculptors and, after the event, said the beauty of legacy is that it doesn’t end. Further projects, however, likely wouldn’t include him, he said.
"We saw the 10 statues through," he said, "but I don't have the itch right now."
Craig Carpenter gave an overview of Phelps’ legacy and said when he, Steven, and their brother, Mike, were growing up and playing “a very historically inaccurate version of Cowboys and Indians,” everyone wanted to be Davey Crockett.
He went on to point out many parallels between Crockett and Phelps: both of them hailing from Tennessee, both having fought in the War of 1812, both riverboat men, and both having dabbled in politics among the comparisons.
“John Phelps was a dashing figure,” Carpenter said. “If he’d had a better publicist, he could have been a Davey Crockett.”
For Steven Carpenter, it was important that the final piece be unique – hence the blend of 2-D and 3-D elements.
“I wanted to do something different,” he said. “All the other sculptures around here are beautiful and interesting in their own way, so I thought if I could combine the two-dimensional and three-dimensional, I could tell more of a story in the background. I’d never done a relief of that size, and there was definitely a learning curve while I was doing it.”
It took him about 3 months to complete the clay mold. He then drove it carefully in a customized cage in his truck, to Oregon about 2 years ago. It was cast in several bronze pieces at the foundry, and they were welded together.
Adams took the opportunity to reflect on the process of casting a historical icon.
“You’re so focused on what’s happening at the moment, that there’s not a lot of room to think about the history,” he said. “It’s hot. It’s intense. But at this moment, you can reflect on it a little bit.”
The shortest speech came from the artist himself. Steven Carpenter got choked up as he expressed thanks to everyone involved.
“It’s just such a beautiful area, with so much to offer naturally,” he said. “One of my best memories was my mom packing my lunch for me, I’d take my dog, she’d scoot me out, and I’d go off for the day, out into the woods. See you in half a day.”
His family moved to DeKalb – where he’d eventually meet his wife, Susan – in third grade. But those first several years left an impression.
“I was just a youngster, but I got the feel of the whole town. It was an amazing place to grow up as a kid.”
THE SCULPTURE TRAIL
In addition to the the Community Art Legacy's 10 sculptures, several other works can be found along Oregon's Sculpture Trail, including original works by Lorado Taft. Go to http://shawurl.com/2ny2 to see a brochure of the works on the Oregon Sculpture Trail.