By Marilyn Delk
Something exciting is happening here in Darke County, but many people are not aware of this development. Did you know that Darke County Center for the Arts is spearheading creation of an Arts Trail, and the first new installation will occur later this year with a statue of revered Indian leader Tecumseh placed on Darke County Park District ground at or near the very spot where he and his brother lived in the first decade of the 19th century! The artist commissioned to create that statue will probably have completed his work by the time you read this, and his creation will be on its way to the foundry where it will be cast in bronze before arriving at its final destination! And this is happening just in time to coordinate with the 50th anniversary of the creation of Darke County Parks! Lovers of the arts, nature, and/or history should be thrilled about this momentous convergence.
The project began when DCCA decided to dedicate time and energy towards further enhancing the visual arts in our community, then submitted a proposal to secure funds from the Ohio state budget to advance work on the concept. Although the idea for creation of an Art Trail was initially greeted with enthusiasm, the advance of the COVID epidemic stalled any action, and DCCA put its plans on hold. Then, in December 2020, state lawmakers unveiled a capital spending bill which funded building projects across Ohio that included an award of $40,000 to the Darke County Art Trail! Although the amount was significantly less than that originally requested, DCCA officials were surprised and delighted by this news, and also grateful for the efforts of Senate President Matt Huffman, as well as Senator Steve Huffman and Reps. Susan Manchester and Jena Powell in helping secure these funds.
So DCCA Executive Director Andrea Jordan, DCCA Board Chair Darryl Mehaffie, and Darke County Parks Director Roger Van Frank got together to choose an appropriate subject to initiate establishment of an Art Trail, as well as an artist to create the initial installation. The legacy of the heroic Shawnee chief looms large in this community’s history; he and his brother Tenskwatawa, also known as The Prophet, famously lived with their followers on the banks of Greenville Creek while Tecumseh worked to create a united force to prevent further loss of native lands. After this iconic folk hero was chosen as the subject, sculptor Joshua Shepherd, who resides in Union City, Ind., and whose statue of Little Turtle stands in Greenville City Park, was tapped to create the inaugural Art Trail piece.
Shepherd’s impressive credentials include creation of more than 30 life-size statues that stand across the eastern United States. The 44-year old father of five started sculpting as a hobby when just out of high school, creating historical pieces “just for fun” due to his interest in history, also somehow garnering an enthusiastic customer base that led to a full-time career as a sculptor. Since no accurate portraits of Tecumseh are known to exist, the artist has based his re-creation of the renowned native leader on contemporary descriptions found in credible biographies, all of which describe a charismatic man with imposing physical presence. Joshua has recreated that presence, sculpting a heroic figure with shoulder length hair partially covered by a headscarf who is wearing a treasured British peace medal.
Installation of that impressive image will soon stand on the Darke County Parks’ trail system, the first installment of what will become another excellent reason to explore the wonders to be found in our community. You are invited to submit your suggestions of already existing significant art to be considered for inclusion on the Art Trail; to do so, contact Darke County Center for the Arts by email at [email protected], by mail at P.O. Box 718, Greenville, Ohio 45331, or by calling 937-547-0908. This is only the exciting beginning of an exciting project with an exciting future.
Marilyn Delk is the former executive director of the Darke County Center for the Arts and can be reached at [email protected] Viewpoints expressed in the article are the work of the author. The Daily Advocate does not endorse these viewpoints or the independent activities of the author.