As they gazed upon the Wabash River through an open door, an unlikely choir of about 120 voices sang the chorus of Paul Dresser’s famous song, “On the Banks of the Wabash, Far Away.”

They sang in unison, led by local musician Tom Roznowski, during the dedication of “A Song for Indiana,” a new bronze sculpture honoring the Terre Haute composer, the Wabash River and Dresser’s ballad, which is also Indiana’s official state song. The ceremony was held on Wednesday in the Girl Scout building in Fairbanks Park. 

Spearheaded by Art Spaces Inc., the 2 1/2-foot high limestone base and 6 1/2-foot-high sculpture sit next to Dresser’s boyhood home at the entrance of the park in Terre Haute. It weighs 600 pounds.

It was also a project that was about three years in the making, said Art Spaces Executive Director Mary Kramer. The sculpture joins 13 other Art Spaces projects around Terre Haute. 

Dresser, who lived from 1858-1906, was described as a “big-hearted, cheerful, lovable man,” Kramer said in her remarks. He is “unforgotten here on the lovely banks of the gentle river upon which his eyes first opened, which his boyish feet often trod and to which in manhood, his heart fondly reverted,” she said. 

The ceremony honoring Dresser’s song, “its significance to Indiana and its place in the world” was made possible by donors that include the Terre Haute Rotary Club (which made the sculpture its centennial celebration project ), 100+ Women Who Care Vigo County and many other supporters, Kramer said. 

At the event, representatives of the project’s sponsors and several community leaders spoke in praise of the finished product, which they recognized as a lasting tribute, a source of community pride and an art piece that the community will enjoy for a long time.

The artist, Teresa Clark, told the audience that she is “honored” to have been chosen for the project. Her inspiration, she said, was the song itself, particularly its chorus. 

“I’m excited for people to start enjoying it,” Clark told the Tribune-Star before the event. “I hope it will draw them to the river itself” and inspire questions and a deeper understanding of who Dresser was, she added. 

After the ceremony several in attendance visited the sculpture and toured Dresser’s boyhood home. 

One, Sister Mary Montgomery, said she loves how the sculpture “captures the river.” The middle part of the artwork features a negative space in the shape of the river and people can view the Wabash when looking through that space. The circular sculpture also includes a relief portrait of Dresser, the song’s refrain and musical lines from the song. 

“It’s a solid structure but it seems like it’s dancing,” Montgomery said. “I see movement and life. It lifts the spirit, it just makes me happy to see this.”

Reporter Dianne Frances D. Powell can be reached at 812-231-4299 or dianne.powell@tribstar.com. Follow her on Twitter @TribstarDianne.

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