GREENFIELD — If plans unfold as organizers hope, soon residents and visitors will have the chance to sit with James Whitcomb Riley outside his boyhood home in Greenfield.
As part of Indiana’s bicentennial celebration in 2016 and in commemoration of the 100th anniversary of Riley’s death, officials with the James Whitcomb Riley Boyhood Home and Museum plan to unveil a new statue of the Hoosier poet. A fundraising effort will be launched in coming weeks to help pay for the project, which is estimated to cost $40,000 to $45,000.
Over the weekend, the first rendering of the statue’s design was unveiled. It features a life-sized bronze Riley seated on a bench, where visitors will be invited to sit. Artist Bill Wolfe of Terre Haute has been recruited to design and create the sculpture.
Historian and Riley home hostess Brigette Jones said organizers plan to apply for the project to be recognized by the state as a bicentennial legacy project.
Across the state, the Indiana Bicentennial Commission is endorsing projects and programs that promote cultural inclusiveness, create a legacy for the future and celebrate Indiana’s history.
The new Riley statue will create a lasting legacy and celebrate Riley’s ties to Hancock County, Jones said. It also will engage tourists and residents and draw attention to the Riley home at 250 W. Main St., she added.
The bench will allow visitors to sit with Riley and have a more personal experience when visiting the home, Jones said. The home is open only from April through October and has limited hours during those months, which means a family passing through town in the evening or winter might not have the opportunity to see the Hoosier poet’s legacy.
Having the bench there will give them something to experience during the offseason.
“This is not just for Greenfield. … This is going to be for all of Indiana,” Jones said. “Riley was the Hoosier poet. He wasn’t the Greenfield poet.”
Though there’s already a statue of Riley on the north side of the Hancock County Courthouse, the planned statue offers a different view of Riley. The courthouse statue, which will be 100 in 2018, depicts Riley as scholarly and older. The proposed statue would depict a more youthful representation of the poet.
Wolfe was selected to design the statue because of his Hoosier heritage and his resumé; he was the artist behind the 15-feet-tall Larry Bird statue that was once on display at Bankers Life Fieldhouse and the Col. Weir Cook sculpture displayed at the Indianapolis International Airport.
Statues and sculptures tend to catch the eye of passers-by, Wolfe said. Placing a figure in front of the museum might increase the number of visitors to the boyhood home, he said.
“Normally, someone might drive right by the museum and not notice it’s there,” he said.
He’ll work with Jones throughout the project to ensure he’s sculpting Riley as organizers wish, he said, and he’s excited to be part of Riley’s history in Hancock County.
“I’m honored and excited to get started on it,” he said. “I just think it’s going to be a neat project and fun to do.”
Jones said organizers are considering several ways to fund the project, including fundraising, public dollars and grants.
Those who choose to contribute will be part of a project that has a lasting legacy in the county, she said.
“You’re going to be involved in something that will be here for 100 years, … a fixture that will bring people to our city and county,” she said.
Joanie Fitzwater, city planning director, looks to the statue as a means to kindle children’s interest in Riley. She envisions visitors to the poet’s boyhood home posing with his likeness and snapping pictures.
It’s an experience she hope will drum up interest in Riley’s works and help to brand Greenfield as the site where the ideas for much of his poetry took shape.
Getting local residents on board with the project through fundraising is the next step.
“It’s not a small amount, but I have faith,” Fitzwater said.