Fund-raising for Sculpture Park

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This maquette of Aunt Marianne LaBuche provides a good vision for the life-size bronze statue that is anticipated for the Mississippi River Sculpture Park. (Photo by Randy Paske)


Social media fundraiser being done for latest 

Sculpture Park statue

By Ted Pennekamp


The Mississippi River Sculpture Park Board is in the midst of a major fundraising effort in order to get a new sculpture for the park. 

“This is a big fundraiser,” said Randy Paske, president of the Sculpture Park Board. “It’s the first time I’ve seen anything like this in Prairie du Chien.” 

Paske noted that the fundraiser is being done through emails and other social media as part of the Kickstarter Program through “We’re hopeful to raise at least $45,000, but it’s all or nothing,” said Paske, who noted that the fundraising effort began a week before Thanksgiving and will end on Christmas Eve. The project will only be funded if at least $45,000 is pledged by Thursday, Dec. 24. 

The fundraising is being done so the park can add a sixth life-size, bronze statue which will be Marianne LaBuche. It is hoped it can be dedicated within the next year, Paske said. 

Currently, the park has statues of Chief Blackhawk, Dr. William Beaumont and son Israel, a Victorian Lady, a voyager, and Emma Big Bear. Each one is intricately sculpted by Florence Bird. Bird said, “It may not be understood that these are one-of-a-kind works of art made in the tradition of famous museum pieces and other public bronze monuments. They are each made especially for the Mississippi River Sculpture Park in Prairie du Chien, to illustrate the history and prehistory of this area. These statues are not mass produced decorative garden pieces. Each one requires its own separate production process starting with the inspiration of the artist. The whole process takes from six to eight months for each statue. The techniques and tools are similar to ones used for bronze statues of all ages. Each bronze statue will last for thousands of years.”

“It’s a one-of-a-kind park in North America, and perhaps the Western Hemisphere,” said Paske. These are historical figures who have either lived in, or visited this area. It’s a diamond in the rough.”

Paske said each statue begins as an 18-inch-high clay mannequin sculpted by Bird. Then, a life-size Styrofoam “sculpture” is made and clay is placed over that and fine details are done. A bronze casting, known as a plasticine cast is then done over the clay at an artisan foundry in Milwaukee.

“Those statues will be there forever,” said Paske, who noted that the board hopes to eventually have 25 statues in the park, which will take many years to complete.

The city-owned Mississippi River Sculpture Park is open 365 days of the year and free of charge for all. It is on St. Feriole Island in Prairie du Chien surrounded by the waters of the Mississippi River.

The story of Aunt Marianne LaBuche is astounding. In the early 19th Century she came up from New Orleans. She was a healer, part French, part Sioux and part African American, and became known as the first doctor of Prairie du Chien. In 1827, she rescued and healed her 18-month-old granddaughter who had been scalped in the Winnebago Uprising. When they were preparing the baby for burial they found she was still alive. Aunt Marianne placed a piece of silver, possibly a Spanish Pieces-of-Eight, which was hammered out to a thin disc, (said to be antibacterial) over the wound. The granddaughter, Mary Louisa, lived to be 67 years old and had 13 children and 38 grandchildren.

Paske said, people interested in the Sculpture Park can visit the website for details about how to donate. For those wishing to donate, 80 percent of funds go directly to casting and installing the statue. Twenty percent of funds are for premiums, shipping and administration. 

Donors may choose to make a contribution in any amount without receiving a premium. In that case, their total contribution will go toward the sculpture and their donation will be 80 percent tax exempt. 

For the $100 premium donation, paving bricks are stockpiled. These are produced and sandblasted locally. For the $500 and $1,000 premiums, hydro-stone is produced by the same foundry that is used for the final casting. The original mold was used to produce a duplicate bronze maquette. This mold will be used to produce a mini hydro-stone statue of Aunt Marianne LaBuche that is six inches tall for the $500 donation and 14 inches tall for the $1,000 donation. The hydro-stone statues are designed by Florence Bird.  The planning team has worked closely with the foundry to ensure that hydro-stone statues will be ready as needed.

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