A tribute to whom? 

Sculpture in Riverfront Park misses mark.

click to enlarge NATIVE KNOWLEDGE? At La Petite Roche Plaza.
  • NATIVE KNOWLEDGE? At La Petite Roche Plaza.

Why can't Little Rock install a sculpture that, either in execution and subject or both, springs from an artist we call one of our own?

Riverfront Park, the airport, War Memorial Stadium, the Old Statehouse, the Convention Center are replete with sculpture by Western artists who have in common their affiliation with a Loveland, Colo., gallery and guild.

The latest example: The "Native Knowledge" sculpture installed at La Petite Roche plaza at the Junction Bridge, near what's left of the Little Rock. Donated to the city by the "Sculpture at the River Market" non-profit, which has set itself up as the arbiter of public art in Little Rock, Denny Haskew's sculpture features three Indian faces emerging from stone slabs, each with a title: "Give of Yourself," "Respect all that is Natural," and "Observe Nature."

A press release announcing the sculpture's installation in June said the sculpture was "a tribute to the Caddo, Osage, and Quapaw Native American Cultures of Arkansas."

That's funny, because the same sculpture was previously dedicated to the elders of the Barona Band of Mission Indians, a California tribe, when it was installed in front of the Barona Resort and Casino in San Diego. I don't know who it was dedicated to in Durango, Colo., where it stands at the entrance to the Fort Lewis College (and is named "The Greeters") — the Southern Ute, maybe? — or at the Marianne Butte Golf Course in Loveland. (An eagle theme would have been a good idea for a golf course, it seems to me.)

There are engravings on the backs of the stone said to symbolize the Caddo, Osage and Quapaw. The reliefs couldn't have been done in consultation with the tribes: The chief, who has what I guess is a Caddoan design on his back, is wearing a Plains Indian feather headdress. Wrong headgear. (Wonder what the Barona wore, now that I think of it?)

Haskew is Potawatomi, which shouldn't exclude him from crafting art about other tribes or indeed anything at all, but didn't it bother him to say these sculptures were erected in tribute to Arkansas's tribes? (He did consult with a couple of tribes on the symbols carved on the back of the reliefs, according to records at the Parks and Recreation Department.)

So, again, I ask. Is there no Arkansas sculptor or Caddo, Quapaw or Osage sculptor, or even a Tunican (depending on which archeologist you side with) who could have created a sculpture with an Arkansas identity here? For $50,000, a price quoted for the piece in one article, seems like you could have found someone.




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