HANCOCK COUNTY — The proposal to place a life-sized bronze statue of James Whitcomb Riley outside the Hoosier poet’s boyhood home is off the ground after the effort gained substantial financial backing this week.
At its December meeting, the Hancock County Tourism Commission agreed to foot at least $15,000 of the $39,200 bill to fund the project. In October, officials from the James Whitcomb Riley Boyhood Home and Museum unveiled a plan to place the new statue, which will be seated on a bench outside the downtown Greenfield home where the Hoosier poet grew up.
Proponents of the project say they hope the tourism commissioner’s commitment will act as a catalyst; they hope to draw enough support from other donors in time to install the completed statue for the Riley Festival in fall 2016.
The artist selected by the group of supporters to create the statue, Bill Wolfe of Terre Haute, has agreed to take on the project but said he will need at least six months to complete it, organizers said.
Members of the tourism commission said they will consider providing additional funding for the statue if organizers fail to secure enough funding to meet the timeline.
Another statue of Riley, erected in 1918, stands on the courthouse square in downtown Greenfield. Proponents of the new statue, however, say it will be more accessible and will invite visitors to sit by Riley to pose for photos.
The courthouse statue depicts Riley as scholarly and older. The new statue will depict Riley as he looked in his 40s wearing more casual clothing.
Rosalie Richardson, a member of the tourism commission, said she’s hopes the new statue will attract interest from both residents and tourists.
“This statue will be more approachable and should be more accessible to children and people from out of town,” Richardson said.
Brigette Jones, historian and Riley Home hostess, said the new statue’s location is also likely to draw interest from motorists passing through town on U.S. 40. And considering its proximity to the Riley home at 250 W. Main St., it will also likely draw attention to the museum, she said.
Jones said she hopes the Riley statue will encourage visitors to interact and take pictures with the display.
She also hopes to have the project 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.
Jones said the group of supporters is considering other fundraising avenues to support the project, including grants from other community organizations and businesses.
The group also has discussed offering bricks inscribed with donors’ names to be laid around the statue as an incentive for contributors, she added.