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Statue project moving forward

Two years ago, Kathryn "Jody" Beaulieu asked Carolyn Jacobs why Shared Vision had not addressed the Chief Bemidji statue in downtown Bemidji.

Jacobs was and is a member of Shared Vision, a local group that recognizes and celebrates diversity in the Bemidji area.

That initial conversation, which occurred while Jacobs was visiting the Red Lake Reservation, spurred a committee and multiple public meetings.

A goal was formed to commission a new, more realistic sculpture of Shaynowishkung, the man known as Chief Bemidji.

That goal is now getting closer to becoming a reality.

"It's about more than honoring Shaynowishkung," Jacobs said. "It's about honoring the Anishinaabe people."

Jacobs is the co-chair of the Chief Bemidji Statue Committee, a subcommittee of the Bemidji Parks and Trails Commission. She said the current focus is to raise $120,000 for the project.

Already, the committee has secured more than 60,000, thanks to cash and in-kind contributions, including a $25,000 match grant from the George W. Neilson Foundation, $33,250 of in-kind support from the city, $1,080 of in-kind support from Arrow Printing and $910 in individual donations.

Still, another $60,000 is needed. The committee is waiting to hear back on some grant applications. Also, a fund has been established at the Northwest Minnesota Foundation for tax-deductible donations.

A request for qualifications was sent out this spring, asking artists to submit a resume, a letter of interest and images of past work.

The committee is seeking a realistic, high-quality statue of Shaynowishkung that presents him in a dignified way.

Artists were asked to show knowledge or experience working with American Indian tribes.

Twenty-three artists responded to the RFQ, said Sandy Kaul, co-chair of the committee. Ten were from Minnesota.

"There were artists from this region and artists from the state," she said, noting that she was very pleased with the response.

By the end of October, the 23 will be whittled down to no more than three preferred finalists. Each will be given $1,000 to work on a model of his or her proposal.

A final artist will then be chosen. But no work will be commissioned until the fundraising goal has been reached, Jacobs said.

The current statue that sits alongside the Lake Bemidji waterfront was carved out of Norway pine in 1952 by Erick Boe. It replaced the original statue.

Jacobs said Boe's work was done with good intentions and out of respect.

"It was done out of great regard," she said, noting that the artist should be commended for that.

But, over time, new statues are commissioned by communities for a variety of reasons, and the committee believes that now is the time to get a more realistic, dignified sculpture of Chief Bemidji.