Russiaville artworks pay homage to Native American, farming roots

·3 min read

Oct. 28—RUSSIAVILLE — Cecaahkwa Ciipaya. It's the language of the Miami Indians that translates to "Crane Soul."

And it's the name Kokomo Mayor Tyler Moore gave to one of two new sculptures installed along the paved trail in Russiaville's Community Center Park celebrating the town's Native American history.

Gregory Steel, associate professor of fine arts at Indiana University Kokomo, created the sculpture and said the piece depicts the spirit of a crane rising from the earth and ascending back to its creator.

He asked Moore to name the sculpture, since he is the fourth-great-grandson of Civil Miami Chief Jean Baptiste Richardville, the namesake of the town before it was changed to Russiaville due to the difficult French pronunciation.

Moore said in his description of the piece that the crane is a sacred symbol to the Miami people. He said he believed the piece looked like a crane's soul returning to its creator. The sculpture is located in the middle of a pollinator garden featuring local grasses and flowers.

Steel was commissioned to create the piece after the town secured a $7,500 grant from the Community Foundation of Howard County to install signage and artwork around the path. A horde of local residents and businesses then donated enough money to fully fund the project.

Rick Homkes, vice president of the town's Park and Tree Board, said board members had for years discussed installing sculptures around town, and the grant and donations finally allowed that to happen.

The second sculpture created for the trail is made of old iron tractor rings collected from residents and farmers in southwest Howard County. It's located in the roundabout connecting two sections of the trail.

A dozen families ended up donating the rings they found in their barns or fields. They were welded together by two brothers to create an art piece designed by former Western High School art teacher Jet Sundheimer. The sculpture, called "Iron Wheels," pays homage to the town's farming heritage.

Homkes said when the board started brainstorming what they wanted from the sculptures, the idea of honoring the area's agricultural and Native American heritage quickly became the themes.

"These were the two ideas that just bubbled up to the surface, and everyone agreed that these were the ones we wanted to do," he said.

At the same time, the project would mark the first public art ever installed in the town. Homkes said the goal was to improve the quality of life and quality of place for residents and visitors.

"Kokomo has its sculptures along the trails; now Russiaville does, too," he said. "It just makes me feel like the town is really moving forward."

And they're not done yet. Homkes said they are now working to install more public art around the former interurban train station, which is in the middle of a restoration project.

The Cloverleaf Trail that will eventually run from Kokomo to Frankfort will pass right by the station, and the town wants to start work now to make the area an attractive trailhead featuring more artwork.

Steel said he's made sculptures for all kinds of projects, but there's something special about putting them in public spaces as a powerful way to share a community's history and heart.

And, he said, he thinks both "Iron Wheels" and "Crane Soul" do just that for Russiaville.

"To be me, public sculpture has to have bigger arms," Steel said. "It has to reach out beyond just the individual artists and talk about the larger issues around this community. At least I hope that's what my sculpture does — reaches out and talks about the Native American heritage here."

Carson Gerber can be reached at 765-854-6739, carson.gerber@kokomotribune.com or on Twitter @carsongerber1.

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