First, the Arkansas General Assembly had the tough task of choosing the two people who would represent Arkansas in Statuary Hall in our nation’s capital, and then we had a nationwide search for the artists who would sculpt the statues.
Today I’m happy to report we now have selected the artists for the statues of civil rights icon Daisy Bates and music legend Johnny Cash.
This discussion began in 2018 with the consensus that we needed a historical update in who represents Arkansas in Statuary Hall. The Arkansans who have been standing in for the state for nearly a hundred years are U.M. Rose, a lawyer who served as president of the American Bar Association, and James Paul Clarke, a governor of Arkansas and a U.S. senator.
The legislature authorized the update in 2019, and since Arkansas is well-known for its civil rights leaders and musicians, Daisy Bates and Johnny Cash are fitting replacements for Mr. Rose and Mr. Clarke.
Once we had settled that matter, the Secretary of State’s office put out a call for artists. The U.S. Statuary Hall Steering Committee and the Arkansas Capitol Arts and Grounds Commission narrowed the list of applicants to three for each statue.
The artists wheeled in their clay prototypes of Daisy Bates and Johnny Cash to the Capitol last month, and members of the committees spent June 14 hearing from each of them. Ultimately, they chose Benjamin Victor to sculpt Daisy Bates and Little Rock artist Kevin Kresse to sculpt Johnny Cash. The artists’s attention to details such as the way they stood and the expressions on their face capture not only the likeness of Mrs. Bates and Mr. Cash but a sense of their character at pivotal moments in their remarkable lives.
Under Mr. Victor’s hand, Daisy Bates stands with a newspaper tucked under her left arm and a spiral-bound notepad in her right hand. She is stepping out with her left foot, striding ahead with the resolve and fortitude that Mr. Victor discovered as he studied her life, including the year of the desegregation crisis in 1957 when she mentored the Little Rock Nine.
Mr. Kresse’s statue of Johnny Cash will enhance his reputation as a sculptor of Arkansas musicians. In Mr. Kresse’s depiction of the Man in Black, you see in Mr. Cash’s face a hint of the hard life he lived. Mr. Kresse has slung Johnny’s guitar across his back, and the strap of the guitar crosses beneath the Bible he carries in his right hand, testimony to the faith that delivered Johnny from his hard living.
As the artists go to work, we must raise the final $300,000 of the amount needed to pay the artists and for the delivery and installations of the new statues as well as the return of the other statues to Arkansas.
A lot of people have worked on this project, including the members of the U.S. Statuary Hall Steering Committee and the Arkansas Capitol Arts and Grounds Commission; the Daisy Bates and Johnny Cash families and foundations; the Arkansas Secretary of State’s Office; and Shane Broadway, chairman of the Steering Committee, former speaker of the House, and all-around thoughtful and kind guy.
When we undertook this project, my goal was to have Daisy Bates and Johnny Cash in place by the time I leave office in January 2023. Congratulations to Mr. Kresse and Mr. Victor. I hope to visit with them at the unveiling of their work sometime in the next 18 months.
Editor’s note: This commentary is from the office of Gov. Asa Hutchinson.