TERRE HAUTE —
Poetry filled the afternoon’s sunshine at Seventh and Wabash.
“What place is lovelier than Terre Haute/The foliage of her many trees/That trembles as the cooling breezes float/Across the grain fields’ yellow seas?” Art Spaces Inc.’s Sherry Dailey read from “Terre Haute,” a work by Max Ehrmann.
A throng of 600 packed into the first block of North Seventh Street on Thursday, wrapping about Wabash Avenue to the front of the Vigo County School Corporation. The long-awaited dedication of Max Ehrmann at the Crossroads, a sculpture by Bill Wolfe, was accompanied by seats in the street and refreshments on the sidewalk amid a crowd which allowed for standing room only.
Bev Cristee welcomed the crowd on behalf of Art Spaces Inc., noting with some irony that the unveiling of Ehrmann’s sculpture comes on National Woman’s Equality Day. Ehrmann, she explained, was a progressive and very supportive of the struggles for women’s rights during his lifetime.
And that lifetime began in Terre Haute on Sept. 26, 1872, when Ehrmann was born to Bavarian immigrants. Nurtured in the Midwestern town, Ehrmann graduated from DePauw University and then Harvard Law School before returning home to practice law and work in the family’s manufacturing business.
Then, at the age of 40, he decided to quit the practice of law and business and dedicate himself solely to writing. In addition to his many plays and books, his poem “Desiderata” went on to become a celebrated piece some years after his death.
Cristee explained that the new sculpture and accompanying landscaping at Seventh Street and Wabash Avenue came as the result of many collaborative efforts.
“The scope of this project has required the help of so many participants, so many businesses and so many citizens,” Cristee said.
And it’s that kind of effort that Mayor Duke Bennett credited as something to brag about. Given the gloomy economy and lack of business growth, it’s rare for a Hoosier town to raise $80,000 and $60,000 in in-kind contributions for an arts project. But it’s something he’s proud to tell other mayors about and watch their envy.
“This is a great opportunity to celebrate a citizen who contributed so much,” Bennett said of the day. “And we have a new destination point, right here at the Crossroads of America.”
Rep. Clyde Kersey (D-Terre Haute) agreed that the project carries a special significance. “I believe this is much bigger than the dedication of Max Ehrmann’s statue,” he said, referring to a new day dawning in Terre Haute, one in which terms like “sin city” and “city that smells” remain in the past. “When we do things like this, we build things that make us proud to be from Terre Haute.”
Jon Robeson of Arts Illiana announced a joint poetry competition launched on behalf of Art Spaces Inc., the Swope Art Museum and the Cultural Trail Coalition. The Max Ehrmann Poetry Competition will be open to individuals throughout the Wabash Valley, he said. “The purpose of this competition is to encourage the writing of new poetry as a contemporary art form deeply rooted in tradition, to foster an interdisciplinary connection between art forms and to honor Max Ehrmann, a treasured regional poet whose works were inspired by a love for his own community, its natural surroundings and the people in it,” he explained.
Art Spaces Inc.’s Mary Kramer thanked the community for what she described as a celebration of art, history and literature.
“How many other cities can say they have a poet watching over the heart of their downtown city?” she asked.
Much of the labor and materials used in the project were donated, she noted, adding that more is yet to come. Service organizations and school groups have pledged to help maintain the site and further contributions of future materials. From landscaping to holly wreaths, “You may rest well assured that Max will be well cared for in the years to come,” she said.
Artist Bill Wolfe, a Mecca native and current resident of West Terre Haute, described the work as a great honor, considering it is one artist’s portrayal of another. “I’m very proud to be a part of this project,” he said. In addition to Ehrmann, Wolfe has created bronze likenesses of Abraham Lincoln, Orville Wright, Ernie Pyle and the Tuskegee Airmen. “So, the sculptor’s here, so we’re getting close,” he joked toward the tail-end of the 45-minute program, just before he and Kramer pulled the veil off of his creation.
Brian Boyce can be reached at 812-231-4253 or firstname.lastname@example.org.