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COLUMN

Should statue's move reunite Anthony Wayne with Native Americans, old fort?

When history and owner's wishes collide, a compromise is appropriate

Saturday, December 29, 2012 - 12:01 am

They'll be forever linked by history. But a plan to move a prominent sculpture has sparked a debate about whether Anthony Wayne, Little Turtle, Tecumseh and the original fort should be reunited by art.

Last Saturday's column about Mayor Tom Henry's proposal to relocate George Ganiere's 1918 statue of Fort Wayne's namesake from tree-shrouded Freimann Square to a more visible spot near the Allen County Courthouse prompted several readers to suggest that the three bronze sculptures that were part of the original massive and engraved base should be restored to their rightful place when Wayne and his horse relocate to the Courthouse Green next year.

“This is something we will certainly explore,” city spokesman John Perlich said.

And when they do, city officials will no doubt discover what I did: Things are not always as obvious, simple or logical as they seem.

Not even Parks Department Director Al Moll knows why the city chose not to reuse Ganiere's portraits of the two Native American leaders and the original Fort Wayne when the statue was moved from its original location in Hayden (now Nuchols) Park to the then-new Freimann Square in 1973. But Craig Leonard, an architect who specializes in historic preservation, suspects city officials replaced the huge original base for a smaller nondescript model because “they wanted something that looked 'of the period' . . . this was before 1976, when (America's) bicentennial really launched the modern preservationist movement.”

In fact, the plaques of Miami war chief Little Turtle, Shawnee leader Tecumseh and the fort might not have been preserved at all if not for Tim Doyle, a New Haven sculptor who rescued the three pieces and stashed them in his basement.

And that's where Julie Waterfield enters the story.

The Fort Wayne resident had commissioned Doyle for a project and was “horrified” to learn that he was considering selling the pieces to an out-of-town buyer. “I was very keen on Ganiere,” explained Waterfield, who quickly bought the sculptures to make sure these pieces of local history remained local. In 2008 she donated them to the Allen County Public Library, and they have been prominently displayed in the lobby of the main library's genealogical department ever since.

But should they remain there? Or would history and Ganiere's artistic vision be better-served by reuniting Wayne with the fort he founded and the Native American leaders he helped vanquish?

To Leonard, the answer is obvious: Restore the statue to its original condition, possibly commissioning Doyle to recreate the base in which Wayne's name had been inscribed. He would also put the statue in the center of Courthouse Green, not in the corner near Main and Clinton streets where it would stick out “like a root beer stand.”

To Waterfield and library officials, however, the question is far more complicated – and even personal.

“I'm not saying 'no' (to putting the plaques back on the base), but sometimes when you make a mistake you have to live with it,” Waterfield said, referring to the city's decision to give up the three sculptures decades ago.

“Those pieces are made to be touched, and that happens where they are,” she added, noting that Tecumseh's nose keeps a perpetual shine because of constant rubbing. “They have a lot to do with history at the library.”

They do, indeed. The library's genealogy department is second in the U.S. only to the Mormon collection in Utah and attracts as many as 100,000 visitors per year. “They're stunning pieces and, at eye level, they get a lot of exposure where they are,” spokeswoman Cheryl Ferverda said.

Henry, on the other hand, has said that as many as 40,000 vehicles per day pass the intersection at which he wants to display the statue.

Ferverda said that the library will consider Waterfield's wishes, as it should. And since Waterfield describes herself as a “wannabe genealogist” and donated the pieces in honor of grandparents Basil and Inez Needham -- "they taught me to love history" -- a reunion of statue and base plaques seems unlikely.

Fortunately, a compromise is not only possible but potentially historically appropriate.

It would be relatively simple, after all, to use the sculptures on the library wall as patterns from which to create exact replicas that could in turn be attached to a grander base more befitting the man who gave this city its name.

And who better to do it than Doyle, who has already helped restore parts of the Courthouse and without whom no artistic reunion would have been possible in the first place?

This column is the commentary of the writer and does not necessarily reflect the views or opinions of The News-Sentinel. Email Kevin Leininger at kleininger@news-sentinel.com, or call him at 461-8355.