By MARY RAINWATER
Something big is coming to Palestine.
Three-foot bases made of railroad wheels have popped up in Palestine this week to commemorate the arrival of a 500-pound, 7-foot tall permanent statue and subsequent sculptures that will be part of an upcoming outdoor art walk.
The sculpture “Forging History,” is the first of its kind to make a permanent residence in Palestine in 100 years — when the John H. Reagan statue was erected in Reagan Park.
Set for an unveiling at 2 p.m. on Saturday, Oct. 20, the bronze statue by Texas native Dale Montagne depicts a railroad man in action as he probably looked in 1872, when the railroad made its arrival in Palestine.
It was commissioned by Palestine Tomorrow, Inc., a sub-fund of the Texas Area Fund Foundation Inc., formed in hopes of improving the city’s quality of life through facilitating arts and improving parks.
“The statue was paid for with public donations from Palestine Tomorrow and members of the community,” PTI board member Mary Jean Mollard said. “The Union Pacific Railroad donated 30 railroad wheels for the bases and City of Palestine workers have welded the bases and placed them.”
The statue will be erected in front of the Palestine Visitor Information Center (depot), located at the corner of Spring and Oak streets. It is part of a permanent fixture in what Palestine Tomorrow members are planning to become a Railroad Heritage Park.
“Other bases, just like the one the railroad statue will sit on, will feature artwork from artists both locally and from all over the country,” Mollard said. “They will be featured there for a year and rotated in and out.”
Montagne, who currently lives in the Colorado Rockies near Breckenridge, began the process of creating the “Forging History” statue by first sketching from a live model, then creating a 14-inch tall maquette (a small preliminary model) of the sculpture.
Over the subsequent six months, Montagne made the life-sized original out of steel frame and foam and finally “skinned” it with a detailed clay. A rubber/silicone-like coating was applied to make the molds before they were sent to a foundry to be cast into bronze pieces.
“Now that those molds have been made and cast into bronze, I am in the process of reassembling (welding) the 500 pounds and 32 pieces that create the whole bronze sculpting,” Montagne said.
The Concept and Vision
Montagne came up with the general concept of the statue after a fair bit of research and discussions with locals.
“I felt the image of the symbolic railman in motion and illustrations of landscapes across the country created an intriguing larger concept,” he said. “It is dynamic enough to catch attention from a distance and then reveal subtle details of a story of the railroad’s impact to the entire nation.”
Seeing pictures of the old train station and hearing stories of Palestine’s history — being a hub in the area for the development of a young country — brought pictures and visions alive for Montagne, he said.
“I got my inspiration and began the process of creating a dynamic image that subtly told a story of the railroad’s expansion west with its many aspects,” he said. “The man swinging the hammer is actually emerging from the rock which is the metaphoric book of evolution for the story.
“I tried to make the man a strong face of integrity, intelligence, with the muscles and determination to handle the significant task at hand.”
The more surreal elements of the work, like the swirling rail that terminates in a symbolic wedge opening new areas of the rock/country, convey a feeling and sense of evolving.
“I did try to acknowledge Palestine in a specific area illustrating the piney forest and depot,” Montagne said.
Art Tracks Sculpture Show
The formal unveiling of the statue on Oct. 20 is part of a larger event kicking off Palestine Main Street’s “Art Tracks Sculpture Show,” which will feature 14 works (including the permanent sculpture) that will be located in an area including the old county jail, Old Town, Spring Street, West Oak Street and the visitor’s depot.
“The pieces were chosen by a jury based on quality, workmanship and family-friendliness,” Main Street Director Laura Westgate said. “They are being installed next week and will be on display for a year.”
Pieces include a life-sized red moose, a bird in flight and interactive works such as a pair of hands that viewers can sit on and a giant pinwheel that blows in the wind. Most of the pieces are available for sale.
“Each piece will also have a plaque that offers information about the piece and for online voting,” Westgate said. “Viewers can vote for their favorite piece, and in late December the winning artist will receive a ‘People’s Choice’ award.”
The purpose of the show, Westgate said, is not only to promote Palestine’s Main Street area, but to enhance the artistic appeal of Palestine.
“We want to give those people driving down the road to slow down, stop and take a look,” she said,” “and then, be pulled into Main Street.”
Artist and sculptures featured in the show include: “The Messenger” by Joe Barrington; “Little Bird” by Matt Hornecker; “Sitatunga” by Dan Pogue; Mr. Moose by Johnny Shipman; “Leap of Faith” by Dian Van Buren; “Sensory Device 2” by Kurt Dyrhaug; “Celestial Conversation” by Simon Saleh; “Reaching Up” by Johnny Shipman; “Pinwheel” by Lottie Minick; “Image #021” by Terry Jones; “Family Walk” by Delbert Beckham; “Bad Penny” by Dewane Hughes; and “Hands” by Laura Sturtz.
Mary Rainwater may be reached via e-mail by email@example.com.