TERRE HAUTE —
The banks of the swollen Wabash River weren’t so far away Monday as several people gathered at the Paul Dresser Home in Fairbanks Park to celebrate what would have been the celebrated songwriter’s 155th birthday.
The event also provided an opportunity to update the public on efforts to raise money for a sculpture that will honor Dresser, a Terre Haute native, and his famous song, “On the Banks of the Wabash, Far Away.”
The song, Indiana’s state song, “pays tribute to the river, which is coming to see us today,” said Mary Kramer, Art Spaces executive director. “It wants to join the party.”
The river’s flood stage in Terre Haute is 14 feet, and on Monday, it has reached more than 27 feet. Many people went to the park just to gaze at the flooded river.
Art Spaces is trying to raise about $80,000 for the sculpture/public art project, and so far, it has raised about 25 percent of that goal, Kramer said.
The sculpture would be located west of the Paul Dresser House, which is located at the south entrance to Fairbanks Park.
The goal is to finish fundraising this year and complete the project in the first half of 2014. Kramer expects about 150 artists to apply for the project, and then several finalists will submit their proposals. “Artists come up with amazing ideas,” she said.
The area also will be landscaped and include pathways “to make it more of a destination,” she said.
Dresser was born in Terre Haute on April 22, 1858, and is remembered as one of the best songwriters of his time. After he passed away in 1906, the New York Daily News called him “the greatest of American popular song writers” and he was eulogized as the “ballad maker of a nation.”
According to Kramer, “He’s a really important figure for our community.”
During Monday’s event, Mayor Duke Bennett issued a proclamation to declare the date as Paul Dresser Day, while Marylee Hagan, director of Vigo County Historical Society, spoke about the historic Paul Dresser home.
Justin Hoeppner, local pastor and musician, sang “On the Banks of the Wabash, Far Away.” The song is one of several on “The Wabash” CD, produced late last year by Art Spaces to raise funds for the sculpture.
Other organizations involved in planning the Paul Dresser Project as part of Terre Haute’s Cultural Trail include the Historical Society, Vigo County Public Library, city of Terre Haute, Terre Haute Tribune-Star and Arts Illiana.
Among those at the event was Jon Robeson, executive director of Arts Illiana who serves on the Cultural Trail Committee.
“A lot of people don’t realize all of Paul Dresser’s contributions,” Robeson said. Creating a public work of art to pay tribute to him and his famous song “is really cool,” he said.
Sue Loughlin can be reached at (812) 231-4235 or firstname.lastname@example.org.