The unveiling of the sculpture "Spirit of Victory" by nationally known sculptor Tom Mullany embodies the collective spirit of the people who have been working for almost 10 years to return the sculpture to her Lewiston birthplace.
Mullany created the original sculpture, formerly named "Iroquois Angel," in 1989 during a summer artist-in-residence program at Artpark. At the time, the sculpture was a statement that evolved from two themes -- Artpark, a majestic splendor that was built upon a landfill, and the history of the Iroquois Indians in the area, and their love for the land. The sculpture was "an allegory of the past, present and future of the land here," said Mullany.
In his original working notes, the artist wrote: "When I was designing this piece in 1988, I was struck by the immense contrasts of the place, the vast amount of visible and invisible history contained in the area -- the old portage area, the ancient burial mound, the modern industrial landfill -- all contained in an area of awesome beauty."
"The entire piece was made of various different parts, this angel on a column being the central and most important part," Mullany added. "For several years I had been interested in the image of angels, and had made quite a few different statues and paintings that had an angel as the central subject matter. In sculpture, my main inspiration came from the ancient Greek Nike and the Roman Victory statues, wherein a female angel in a running position stands astride a celestial sphere and is often holding some kind of implement, weapon, palm frond or crown of laurel. I've always liked this image of victory and have found it to be positive and uplifting.
"Other sculptures I was interested in at the time were early 19th century European and American neoclassical works that were representing American Indians and usually looked like ancient Greek statuary with generalized "Indian" apparel. In the final design, I wanted to somehow make this one statue encapsulate a wide expanse of history; to make it some kind of hybrid Greco-Roman-American Indian-Modern American statue of victory; a spirit of the past, present, and future. I called it Iroquois Angel as a reference to the Iroquois Confederacy."
Consistent with Artpark's mission, Iroquois Angel was dismantled at the close of the season. "I actually dismantled the sculpture, and stored the smaller pieces in an old storage shed," said Mullany. "I had wanted to move the main piece, the angel, home with me, but couldn't afford it at the time. I had a verbal agreement with Artpark that they would hold it for me until I was able to move it."
In the autumn of 1989, Eva Nicklas and Irene Rykaszewski, who at the time were volunteers in the arts community, stumbled upon the body of the sculpture in the weeds while walking at Artpark.
"We couldn't believe what we saw," said Ms. Nicklas, now program director for the Lewiston Council on the Arts. "We had never seen the Iroquois Angel installation, but we realized we had found a beautiful piece of sculpture. We had no idea that her body was only one element of the total piece. We immediately contacted David Midland, who was the executive director of Artpark at the time. He dismissed our interest, and the sculpture remained in the weeds for many years."
"Over time we would attempt to initiate dialogue with Midland regarding the piece," said Ms. Nicklas.
"It was clear that he did not want to address the subject. Our last conversation with him was when Artpark was facing serious financial difficulty. During a town meeting at which he was present, I once again brought up the fate of the sculpture. I received no response, and the next time we went to Artpark, the sculpture had been removed. In fact, Iroquois Angel had been moved to Lewiston's Joseph Davis State Park and dumped behind a maintenance building," she said.
As time passed, Ms. Nicklas and Ms. Rykaszewski maintained their interest in restoring and installing the sculpture in Lewiston.
"I was working at Niagara University and a colleague mentioned that the new Castellani Gallery director had worked on the Mullany project at Artpark. We called him for his advice," Ms. Rykaszewski said.
Kurt Von Voetsch had indeed worked as an artist's assistant with Mullany during the Iroquois Angel installation at Artpark, and still had slides and photographs of the project. "Although it was unfortunate for the sculpture to have been dismantled, the bigger picture was the opportunity for freedom of expression and experimentation that Mullany had at Artpark," said Von Voetsch.
"Freedom of expression was indeed the fulcrum of Artpark's artist-in-residence program," said David Grapes, Artpark's current executive director. "At that time the mission of the state was that the idea of doing visual art in the park was about the process of creation, not the finished product. Artists were granted the freedom of expression and the funding to create, and upon completion, they owned their work," said Grapes.
"Unfortunately, when the Lewiston Council on the Arts approached Artpark about the restoration and siting of Spirit of Victory, our organization was unable to act within the time constraints faced by the council," Grapes said.
"Artpark and Company is a relatively new board. At the time the council was seeking a permanent home for Spirit of Victory, Artpark and Company was still writing its mission statement. We did go to New York state with the request. The response centered around our licensing agreement with the state. Artpark and Company simply licenses the park from the state, and manages programming.
"If we were to commission or install artwork in the park, what would be the fate of those works if Artpark and Company failed to negotiate a new agreement? Further, the state had questions about who held the responsibility and funding for long-term maintenance of the artwork and area surrounding each installation," Grapes said.
In 1996, Ms. Rykaszewski reached Mullany and shared the dream of a restoration and new installation of Mullany's piece.
"I was thrilled when Eva and Irene called," said Mullany. "I had always wanted the sculpture to stay in this area because she was inspired by this area.
"But, as I thought about the piece moving from Artpark and being installed at ground level, the significance of the piece began to change. The original work featured the angel holding a scythe. In art history, the scythe always had a dual meaning, a sign of civilization, agriculture and life vs. the reaping of life -- or death. Now, 10 years after my original design, I no longer wanted to communicate this essence. This evolution of work is a consistent pattern for me. Many of my works have changed and evolved over time, and I think perhaps they're better as they've aged and changed," Mullany said.
Once Mullany signed Iroquois Angel over to the Council on the Arts, Ms. Nicklas and Ms. Rykaszewski turned their efforts to identifying feasible and appropriate installation sites. At a Town of Lewiston meeting one night, councilman John Ceretto listened to their quest for a new home, within Lewiston, for the sculpture.
"I was so excited about their presentation, I asked to be named the town liaison on the project," said Ceretto. "Steve Reiter from the town and I drove up and down River Road looking for possible sites. The one that really caught our eye was on state land at Joseph Davis State Park. We knew then that we had to add Henry Brodowski, deputy general manager of the Niagara Falls State Park, to our team," Ceretto added.
The Council on the Arts identifies Brodowski as their champion against the snarl of red tape.
"When Eva and Irene discussed the Spirit of Victory and their vision about adding a sculpture path to the Seaway trail, we were very interested," said Brodowski. "It was our job to work with our Resource Management Group in Albany -- a team of people representing the environment, historic preservation, legal counsel, etc. -- to develop a management agreement for the Council on the Arts," said Brodowski.
"The agreement grants the council a five-year renewable permit to install the sculpture on state property. The council is responsible for maintaining the sculpture, including insurance and upkeep," Brodowski said. "We are very happy about this project, and look forward to a good relationship."
With ownership of the sculpture, a permanent installation site, and a commitment from the artist for a renewed vision and restoration, the Council on the Arts team now needed mobilize a myriad of individuals to complete the final details in the realization of their dream.
"It was important to us that the restoration of the sculpture was received well by the Native American community," said Ms. Nicklas.
"We contacted Peter Jemison, director of the Ganondagon State Historic Site, who was well aware of the controversy created by the sculpture in 1989. We provided Mr. Jemison with a written copy of Tom Mullany's original working notes detailing his inspiration for the piece. Mr. Jemison concluded that he believed Mullany to be proceeding with good intentions and meant no disrespect to Native American culture."
Other key supporters have included Larry Griffis, an local artist well known for his dedication to sculpture art through his work and Griffis Sculpture Park in East Otto. John Morley, a respected Canadian horticulturalist, donated his time to share his vision of appropriate landscaping around the installation, and Colleen Jackson, proprietor of the Stonewall Inn Bed and Breakfast, donated accommodations and meals for the artist during his two-week return to Lewiston.
"This is just the beginning," said Ms. Nicklas. "It is our dream to develop a sculpture garden or trail at this site, and we have many, many people interested in working with us to achieve this dream."
"I think a sculpture garden is a wonderful idea for the area," said Grapes. "And as we develop Artpark's new three-year vision, I would love to look for other pieces which were created at Artpark and bring them home," he said.
Spirit of Victory is constructed of welded and hammered steel. The piece stands 15 feet tall, and weighs more than 1.5 tons. It can be seen at the Grand View Site at Joseph Davis State Park on Lower River Road in Lewiston.