story by Brittany Ransom
There has been much buzz lately surrounding the monument to built to be in honor of famous Fort Smithian Gen. William O. Darby. Following a national call for artists, the Gen. Darby Legacy Project, announced this past fall that Little Rock-based artist Kevin Kresse had been selected as the official sculptor for the project.
An Arkansas-native, Kresse has exhibited work around the state and country. His pieces have been shown in Arkansas, as well as in Memphis, Atlanta, New York City, and Washington, D.C.
Kresse has been awarded painting fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts, the Mid-America Arts Alliance, and the Arkansas Arts Council. He has also been honored at the Arkansas Arts Center annual Delta competition.
The statue Kresse is to create will depict Darby on his classic 1942 Harley-Davidson motorcycle, which was his most common mode of transportation during World War II. The Darby monument will be one and one quarter life scale, with the final product standing approximately seven feet tall, and the Harley base close to nine feet long. It will be erected in downtown Fort Smith's Cisterna Park.
William O. Darby was born in Fort Smith on Feb. 8, 1911. At an early age he knew he wanted to become a soldier. After graduation from high school, he attended West Point. In 1932, after graduation, Lieutenant Darby began a distinguished army career where he was selected to lead elite special forces in World War II called Rangers. General Darby is known for leading his men into action living up to the motto, “Rangers Lead The Way.”
Darby died on April 30, 1945, after he was hit by shrapnel from German artillery.
"Kevin was the artist that took the parameters set forth by the committee and really delivered a concept that captured the spirit of Gen. Darby and what we were looking for in a statue," said Dr. Darren McKinney, Darby Junior High School principal and chair of the General Darby Legacy Project. "All of the artists did an outstanding job of taking our concept and providing outstanding ideas. However, in the end, Kevin really stood out to the committee and left us with the ‘wow’ factor of what he wanted to do, what we wanted from an artist, and what the project means to Fort Smith and this community.”
Kresse envisions the monument to show Darby with one foot off the bike, and his body turned to the side looking out. The motorcycle will be situated where it runs parallel to Garrison Avenue, with Darby's torso and face turned toward the street.
Kresse will begin his design using foam, with which he will construct a very small exact model. He will then have it enlarged into a larger-scale, foam model. The monument will be constructed using oil-based clay, before it is finished off with a bronze casting, something Kresse calls "an amazing process," to help it withstand the elements. The process takes approximately six months to complete.
"The biggest challenge of this piece is dealing with the Harley, which is a large part of this composition," said Kresse. "It is a cool looking bike, but it is very important that this is much more than just a soldier on a motorcycle. … I want to capture Darby's essence and not let the bike overpower the piece."
‘A REAL COWBOY’
Body language and overall presence also play important roles.
"I am working on getting body language down, so that the person viewing it will get a true sense of Darby's personality," said Kresse. "I want to get it just right, so that if someone knew him, they could recognize him from a distance, based on his body language and appearance."
Part of his research has included Kresse spending time with some of Darby's descendants to help become more familiar with the man whom he is sculpting. Before applying for the project, Kresse was not familiar with Darby or his story from the war.
"I have visited with his relatives and read books. It is obvious that Gen. Darby was a real cowboy … a real independent spirit. … I had definitely heard of him, but I didn't know details. I was blown away when I started reading about him. His story is incredible."
An artist to his core, Kresse has experimented with various mediums a good portion of his life. In the late 1990s, he began taking courses in sculpting. By 2001, he had already commissioned his first piece of public work, which was a sculpture for the Baptist campus in Little Rock. The Good Samaritan themed piece, entitled "Compassion & Hope," was installed in 2002. Since that time, he has also produced pieces for sites throughout the state, as well as Texas.
Kresse's most recent work, a statue for Two Rivers Park in Little Rock, has served as sort of lesson for him as he prepares for the upcoming Darby work. The statue depicts a father helping his young son ride a bicycle. Kresse said some of the techniques he learned from crafting the son's bike should prove useful as he sculpts the Harley for the Darby piece.
"The Harley really does make this a unique piece and it is important that I get the technical aspects of it down," said Kresse. "I want to make sure that this bike plays its proper supporting role."
Kresse is also well-known for creating unique busts and pieces depicting famous Arkansans. Some of his most notable works include a bronzed bust of the late Arkansas Lt. Governor Win Rockefeller. The artwork was presented to the Arkansas State Capitol in 2008 to be displayed in front of the Lt. Governor's offices on the Capitol's second floor.
Kresse also created a large sculpture for the Dee Brown Library in Little Rock , depicting the famous author, for whom the library is named. Brown's likeness features his hand raised to his chin, with a pencil in his grasp, as if in deep thought. Surrounding the pedestal are titles of Brown's books, including his most famous book, 1971′s “Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee.”
Organizers predict that the Darby monument will be debuted to the public by the fall of 2015. The Darby committee has set a fundraising goal of $250,000. To date, more than $40,000 has been raised through the collection of private donations, fundraisers, and most recently, a Darby Ranger online auction.
Individuals or businesses interested in contributing to the project may do so on the Darby Legacy Project' s website or by mailing donations to PO Box 934, Fort Smith, AR 72902.