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Chief Bemidji statue finalists selected; artists have experience working in bronze sculpture

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The Chief Bemidji Artist Selection Committee has selected three artists as finalists to be commissioned to create a permanent statue of Chief Bemidji.

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The statue, upon completion, will be placed in Library Park overlooking Lake Bemidji.

"We wanted the very best artists we could find," committee member Sandy Kaul said.

The committee was unanimous on its selection of the final three and presented the finalists to the Bemidji Parks and Trails Commission on Tuesday.

The three finalists include Steven Whyte of Carmel, Calif., Gareth Curtiss of Olympia, Wash., and Ann LaRose of Tucson, Ariz.

The next step will be to contract the artists to do models and drawing that will illustrate their final product. Initial installation of the new statue is expected to take place nine to 12 months after the piece is commissioned.

All three artist selected by the committee have experience working in bronze sculpture. The committee favored the use of bronze sculpture because it best captures the project concept of a high quality, life-size or larger statue of Chief Bemidji that is realistic in nature.

In selecting the finalists, the committee responded most to the style of each artist's work and developed a strong preference for a very detailed, realistic statue.

Stonework was ruled out by the committee because the final product would be too abstract.

The committee will provide as much information about Chief Bemidji as they can to each artist to help them create a realistic and accurate rendering of Chief Bemidji.

The committee received 23 applications from 26 artists. Seven applicants identified themselves as having Native American heritage and three applicants were from north central Minnesota.

Eight applicants were female, a number that impressed committee members Mitch Blessing and Sandy Kaul.

The committee reviewed past art works by the applicants, letters of interest, resumes and supplemental materials of the artists.

The project was open to all artists over the age of 18 who could demonstrate their knowledge of and experience with Ojibwe/Anishinaabe culture and history.

The slideshow presented to the Parks and Trails Commission was met with approval.

"I didn't know what to expect," Councilor Greg Negard said. "Wow, I'm impressed."

The committee highlighted what they considered to be particularly impressive from each of the finalists.

LaRose was adept at telling stories through her statues. Curtiss impressed with his ability to capture character. Whyte utilizes a scratchy, textured surface on his sculptures that catches the eye.

Blessing, a fine artist and graphic designer, said that the artist has an obligation to inform the community about the significance of the art and why it was created.

The current statue of Chief Bemidji is made of wood and stands in Library Park.

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