Tecumseh returns to Shawnee Prairie

DCCA News

By Marilyn Delk

In 1807, officials sent word to the Indians settled at Greenville that due to disrespect shown the U.S. government they must vacate the area; their leader replied “The Master of Life has appointed this place for us to light our fires; and here we will remain.” Although that leader, Tecumseh, his brother Tenskwatawa (The Prophet), and their followers were soon forced to move westward to establish a new village, the defiant spirit of that extraordinary man continues to dwell in our community to this day. Tecumseh’s return to this “appointed” place will take place on Friday, June 17, when a statue honoring the man and his spirit is unveiled at Shawnee Prairie Preserve; this work of art by sculptor Joshua Shepherd launches the Darke County Art Trail, a project of Darke County Center for the Arts made possible through funds from the Ohio capital budget.

Tecumseh was known as an extremely charismatic character who was widely admired during his lifetime, not only by native Americans, but also by those who fought against him. His primary American foe, William Henry Harrison, described the iconic hero as “one of those uncommon geniuses which spring up occasionally to produce revolutions and overturn the established order of things.” Joshua Shepherd says that his research revealed Tecumseh to be a commanding presence wherever he appeared; the sculptor hoped to capture that magnetism in the image he created.

Contemporary images of Tecumseh are rare-to-non-existent, so for his resource material Joshua relied on first-hand accounts by American and English commanders who met the valiant warrior. He learned that Tecumseh was tall for his time, about 6 feet in height, and often wore a headscarf or turban with one feather stuck into the headdress and a tomahawk tucked in his belt, features copied in creating the life-like sculpture.

The fascinating process of creation began with the sculptor building a wooden framework, essentially a stick figure in the pose being sought. This wood body was covered with styrofoam, then carved down to a rough approximation of the hoped-for form which was itself then covered with clay that Joshua sculpted into the statue’s final version before shipping the sculpture to Falls Foundry in Louisville, Ky.

At the foundry, rubber molds are created and filled with wax; this wax copy is covered in refractory material, which Joshua says is vaguely similar to a ceramic covering. The form is placed in a kiln where the wax melts, leaving a hollow cavity that is then filled with bronze. After being poured and fired in pieces, the statue is then welded together to create the final form. This entire foundry process has taken over 3 ½ months as of this writing, and is not yet complete.

A self-taught artist, Joshua has been sculpting as a hobby since he was just out of high school, creating small figures to reflect his love of history; this activity led to his being asked to create sculptured images for others. The 44-year-old artist worked in construction for a short time after high school, but has been a full-time sculptor for 22 years. During that time, he has created over thirty life-sized public monuments as well as hundreds of fine art and commercial pieces with a special focus on historical and wildlife subjects, one of which is the statue of Indian leader Little Turtle which stands in Greenville City Park. The artist lives near Union City, Ind. with his wife Lora and children Jonathon, Benjamin, Hannah, Nathaniel, and Caleb.

The ceremonies surrounding the unveiling of the Tecumseh statue will also celebrate the fiftieth anniversary of the founding of the Darke County Parks District, which is headquartered at Shawnee Prairie Preserve. This exciting and meaningful event will be attended not only by state and local government officials, but also will include representatives from the Shawnee tribes. Everyone is invited to celebrate Tecumseh’s return to the historic site where he once lived and led his people; festivities begin at 12 noon. For more information, contact Darke County Center for the Arts at www.DarkeCountyArts.org or call Darke County Parks at 937-548-0165.

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.