Spirit of the Rivers
SPIRIT OF THE RIVERS – MANITOWOC, WI
DEDICATION DAY: September 16th, 2pm.
Spirit of the Rivers is a monumental bronze sculpture group to be situated on the Lake Michigan shore between Manitowoc and Two Rivers, Wisconsin. Celebrating the culture and history of the earliest inhabitants, the monument reminds us that people lived on this shore for countless generations before the first axe struck timber to develop our present cities. The birch bark canoe, held aloft upon the shoulders of the portageur, stands as a tribute to the first vessels to ply these waters and foreshadows our rich maritime history.
The beauty and grandeur of Spirit of the Rivers will bring pride to area residents and attract visitors to our lakefront for generations to come. It will be a newsworthy undertaking as a collaborative public art project between the cities of Manitowoc and Two Rivers and serve as an educational resource for the communities. It is scheduled to be unveiled on the lakeshore in July, 2018.
The majestic sweep of the Lake Michigan shoreline that we now call Maritime Bay has long been an inviting place. The earliest people – the Menominee, Ojibwa, Ottawa, and Potawatomi, along with other Wisconsin tribes – thrived in its woodlands and along its waterways, pursuing ways of life, made possible by birch bark canoes. The legacy of these first people, much more than arrowheads unearthed in the plowed fields, resides in the very names and spirits of this region.
The elegant technology that allowed the making of a birch bark canoe ties the monument to our maritime tradition. As the horse was to the settlement of the Great Plains, so the birch bark canoe was to the Great Lakes Region, where the canoe allowed transport, exploration and the development of cultures unique to this area.
The monument celebrates no great battle, no historic discovery or event but merely the everyday life of a bygone era. The idea of a large public work of art was conceived by Joseph Metzen, a local resident who envisioned a project grand enough to become a regional landmark. He and the sculptor, a Manitowoc native, conceived the subject and theme of the monument.
A generous donation from Carol and Daniel Wergin funded the creation of a maquette (working model), and a group of citizens from Manitowoc and Two Rivers formed a nonprofit organization to raise funds to complete the project. The sculptor chosen for this undertaking is R.T. “Skip” Wallen, a internationally-renowned artist who hails from Manitowoc, WI.
The bronze sculpture will consist of a birch bark canoe and three human figures:
- a Man portaging a birch bark canoe from Lake Michigan
- a Woman, carrying their belongings
- an Elder showing the way, literally and figuratively
Each figure will be approximately ten-feet high, with the canoe reaching 20 feet in length. The birch bark canoe itself will be at the center of focus as it is held aloft upon the shoulders of the portageur. Its significance to the monument reflects its significance to the American Indians who crafted this beautiful light-weight vessel and used it to travel the waterways of the upper Great Lakes.
A 1/8th scale maquette (working model) was completed in 2013 and two casts in bronze were produced for local display. From the maquette, full scale enlargements are produced in rigid foam, then clay is applied to the foam figures, and details are sculpted in the clay. Much of this work will be completed in a studio space donated in downtown Manitowoc by Steve Schinan.
Once the sculpting is completed, molds will be made and shipped to a foundry in Oregon for bronze casting. After assembly, welding, and patina are done, the figures will be shipped to the site for installation. Cast in bronze, the sculpture group will weigh over three tons, with a patina customized to highlight the details of native clothing and canoe construction.
A volunteer board sought out private funding and has been guiding the overall project.
The site for the Spirit of the Rivers is along Mariners Trail, on the lakefront, at the boundary between Manitowoc and Two Rivers. The location offers a spectacular Lake Michigan backdrop, with enough open space for proper viewing both on-site and from Memorial Drive. Parking, picnic area, and restrooms are conveniently available at the nearby Woodland Drive wayside, just south of the sculpture. Forget-Me-Not-Creek is the aptly named tributary located at the sculpture site.