I’m finally figuring out my schedule, its benefits, and its limitations, realizing that I’ve got to work to prioritize the creative outlets that are important me, and that that’s just what adults(!) must do. It’s not like this is a foreign concept, but twelve-hour days on a shifting weekly schedule represent the first time I’ve really struggled in that way. My life has gone through many changes over the past year and a half or so!
Statues, so long as they’re not Confederate ones, rarely change. I like historic works of public art. Indiana’s county seats are full of it and many statues grace, or have graced, the lawns of our courthouses. Today, in paraphrasing celebration of the tag line at the top of this blog, I’ll show some “photos of Indiana’s Historic Courthouse Statues, along with some others.”
We can start with E.M. Visquesney’s The Spirit of the American Doughboy, which honors those who died during World War I. It does not take a brainiac to realize that, in profile, Visquesney probably copied the stance of the Statue of Liberty in sculpting this piece, in which a young soldier holds a hand grenade aloft in his right hand along with a rifle close to his leftern1 flank.
They were mass-produced -made variously of cast zinc, sheet bronze, and stone2,- so a ton of them exist. Indiana, Visquesney’s home state, has eleven full-sized versions of the gutsy fellow. The son of a French stone mason3, Visquesney originally hailed from Spencer. Here’s that city’s copy of his work, which stands in front of the courthouse there:
Happily oblivious to the concept of “context” during most of my courthouse trips, I did not bother to seek out many statues to depict since I wanted to focus on the buildings themselves. Here’s the doughboy outside of the Blackford County Courthouse. I’m glad he made a cameo that day.
Other counties have their own unique statues that stand at the ready to guard their courthouses. Take this fearsome matron judging me from the higher reaches of the Monroe County Courthouse in Bloomington, for example. I assumed that she was irritated with me for wiping the leg of my trousers with Sweet Onion sauce after the Elletsville Subway didn’t give me any napkins. In actuality, the figure was created by the Hungarian sculptor Albert Molnar and is known as “The Light of the World.” Surrounded by characters that personify law and power, the central likeness holds an allegorical torch of enlightenment above her head4, though I would have found a monumental Tide Pen more useful in the moment.
The demolished Marion County Courthouse in Indianapolis had some phenomenal statues. IIf you’ve ever ascended the crown of Crown Hill Cemetery to James Whitcomb Riley’s grave, you’d have gone right by two of them. The first stands just beyond the 38th Street underpass, and it represents either Persephone or Hebe. The second is a statue of Themis, just below Riley’s grave. The final statue, placed in section 46-B of the cemetery, represents Demeter. Two more statues from the old courthouse overlook the ruins at Holliday Park.
The ruins -a phenomenal installation itself- was once home to two more courthouse statues until age and vandalism took their toll5 while one final goddess wound up in the personal collection of a California art dealer. In the photo below, courtesy of The Indiana Album’s Nancy (Hendricks) VanArendonk collection, you can see six of the eight standing in front of the old courthouse after being removed from its parapet. It looks like they’re taking a quick smoke break, and I’d have loved to join them! The scene reminds me of the cover of Black Sabbath’s Heaven and Hell, the first album I ever bought with my own money.
My home county of Delaware has some statues of our own that grace our 1969 courthouse. They are this horrifying native American and “his girlfriends6,” goddesses that represent agriculture and industry. The Indian -carved, as far as we know, by the Irish sculptor John A. Ward- measured 10-12 feet tall and once held court over the old building’s eastern entrance. Upon its removal from the old courthouse in 1966, a passerby remarked that he should have been placed near the new treasurer’s office since he “look[ed[ so mean that no one would fail to pay his taxes7”.
While the Indian is ugly, I’m sure that his grim visage is due more to the angle we were originally intended to view from from -sixty feet below his perch- than through the Victorian perpetuation of some stereotypical caricature. After all, I don’t know of any courthouse that features a disparaging cartoon above its main entryway. That’s not to say we can’t have a bit of fun with some cartoonish statuary, though. Businesses that feature larger-than-life, humorous characters were once common around East Central Indiana! Take Burger Man. Whereas now he lives in Shirley, he hails from Muncie, Queen City of the Gas Belt:
Burger Man is part of the lineage of a local restaurant founded 1961 called Mr. Fifteen. At one point, five of them existed in Muncie, Anderson, and Greenville, Ohio. On the day that the price of a hamburger rose above fifteen cents, the chain rebranded around the Burger Man character. Somehow this statue made it into rural Hancock County. I’d love to find Muncie’s pair of wayward Burger Men.
We have former Ball State professor Dick Kishel to thank for Burger Man. Though he originally dabbled in designing unique playground equipment in 1959, he soon turned to designing these turtles. Ubiquitous around here and perhaps where you live, the turtles were made of steel-reinforced concrete through the use of a fiberglass mold. They stand about four feet tall and weigh 3,100 pounds8.
That’s a sizable terrapin! But Kishel’s creations only got larger: In 1965, his company, Art Forms, built this 28-foot-tall Paul Bunyan for the Kirby-Wood Lumber Company. Made of a steel skeleton sprayed with urethane foam that was carved into shape and covered with fiberglass, the statue was moved to its current location outside of Timbers bar and grill in 1993, five years after the lumber yard burned down. This was no easy task, as structural steel pipes running through the lumberjack’s legs were anchored into a concrete base to support its estimated 5,000 pound weight9.
Among Kishel’s other creations were the giant ice cream men at the Ice House Tavern in New Castle and the closed Tin Lizzy restaurant near Montpelier that was featured in the opening credits of the show Parks & Recreation. His best-known works, though, ornamented the original Washington Park Zoo in Indianapolis. Willie the Whale -a 22-foot-long walk-through whale with an aquarium inside- was a main attraction of the place. Contrary to common belief, Kishel was not behind the “Big Jack” muffler man statue outside of Muncie at I-69 and 332 (those were all made by International Fiberglass of California).
In 1972, Art Forms evolved into Arrowhead Plastic Engineering, Incorporated, and by 1977, the company moved to the 35,000 square foot former Eugene Field elementary school in Muncie. Today, Arrowhead operates as a provider of custom composite molding and thermoforming processes. As late as 1999, they were turning out 60 (fiberglass) turtles a year for American Playground Company10, and they’re still available from that organization’s website in tangerine red and green. Richard Kishel himself died at eighty-six in 2010.
Outside of his kitschy creations, Kishel was a serious modern artist who sought to accomplish things and make statements through his sculptures and paintings much like Visquesney, Albert Molnar, or even the itinerant John A. Ward did. Although a portfolio of higher-level pieces still exists to inspire many, its Kishel’s accessible pieces -many now paradoxically off the beaten path- that still inspire people like me. I like statues such as those around our old courthouses, but give me a Burger Man, a Bunyan, or a turtle any day instead- I’ll connect with them more than I will from any judge allegorical figure. Is that an allegorical sentiment in and of itself? Did I inadvertently capture some banal millennial zeitgeist? I don’t know. But what I do know is that Burger Man would look great on the courthouse lawn here in Muncie. Or in my front yard!
1 I made up this word.
2 Greiff, Glory-June. “Remebrance, Faith, and Fancy: Outdoor Public Sculpture in Indiana”. Indiana Historical Society Press [Indianapolis]. 2005. Print.
3 Cavinder, Fred. “Forgotten Hoosiers: Profiles from Indiana’s Hidden History” The History Press [Charleston]. 2009. Print.
4 “A Walk through the Monroe County Courthouse” City of Bloomington and Monroe County Convention and Visitors Bureau [Bloomington]. 2009. Print.
5 “History of the Ruins” Friends of Holliday Park. Web. Retrieved 4/3/21.
6 “Old Courthouse Bell, Three Statues Eyed for Return to Plaza” The Muncie Star [Muncie]. February 28, 1982. 4. Print.
7 “Courthouse Demolition Underway” The Muncie Star [Muncie]. December 22, 1966. 2. Print.
8 “Where Giants Are Born” The Indianapolis Star [Indianapolis]. May 1, 1966. 28. Print.
9 Penticuff, David. “Timber! The big guy’s getting new digs” The Muncie Evening Press [Muncie]. July 24, 1993. 1. Print.
10 Millard, Nancy. “The Mighty Kishels” The Star Press [Muncie]. January 17, 1999. 31. Print.