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Three Lewis and Clark statues go up

Three Lewis and Clark statues go up

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The road to constructing three monumental statues of Meriwether Lewis, William Clark and Chief Sheheke was a long one, stretching for more than a decade. And apparently it included a few extra plans across the way.

Members of the Lewis and Clark Fort Mandan Foundation, then only a loose group of interested citizens, wanted a way to draw visitors to the community, said David Borlaug, president of the foundation. They thought a group of statues to commemorate the expedition's bicentennial would be visible from U.S. Highway 83 through Washburn.

But the foundation changed its original focus and decided to build something different first.

"'Getting their attention' turned into an 11,000-square-foot Interpretive Center," Borlaug said, referring to the facility that has been attracting visitors since its opening in 1997.

But Sunday, the initial intent of the committee will officially come to fruition. Monumental 12-foot steel statues, images of Lewis, Clark and Chief Sheheke, will be dedicated as part of the center's bicentennial celebration.

"It's the crowning touch," Borlaug said. "We've come full circle."

In addition to the metallic men, a herd of 4-foot-tall steel buffalo, numbering 25, will line the path of the center's park, marked with names of those who donated $300 or more to the center.

Statues, buffalo, and renovations to the park in which they stand all came to about $500,000, Borlaug said, gathered from private donations.

Tom Neary, Washburn artist, built the statues and designed the buffalo. Neary has done his share of large projects, such as the eagle sculpture in Bismarck's Custer Park, but this project took a little longer, he said.

The eagle took about one year to do, Neary said, but these figures took about four. Getting the facial expressions down, capturing a conversation and other details added to the time frame.

"It's that you've got three figures that are interacting," he said.

These images are different than other popular images of the figures.

This conversation between the three men occurred on Lewis and Clark's trip west, Borlaug said, before Sakakawea began to play her part. Because this is in the first part of the journey, Lewis and Clark are wearing military field uniforms authentic to the time period. Many artists have depicted them in tri-cornered or coonskin caps.

"It's Davy Crockett and Daniel Boone. And it's wrong," he said. "Now, bang, as soon as (visitors) get out of their car they'll see something different."

Neary said he consulted other artists' research on how the men would have dressed, and got his image of Sheheke from a portrait done in Washington, D.C., when the chief visited.

The dedication ceremony is part of a weekend-long series of events, starting Friday with a carnival. It will include an all-school reunion banquet for Washburn alumni and a concert in the 4-H camp next to the center. The statue's dedication will be at 1 p.m. Sunday.

Visitors to the center saw the statues getting settled in their new home Monday. Judi and Chris Collins, riding from Milwaukee to a motorcycle rally in South Dakota, took pictures of the statues on their way in. They always have been interested in Lewis and Clark's journey, and said they wanted to see what the Interpretive Center had to offer.

"There's a raft of pioneer museums around," Chris Collins said. "This one seemed to have the most stuff."

(Reach Laura Schreier at 701-355-8809 or lschreier@ndonline.com)

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