GREENFIELD – Visitors to Greenfield’s new Depot Street Park will now have the chance to have their portrait painted by a master of the form. Or, at least, they can take a picture portraying that scene, by posing with the statue of local artist Will Vawter that’s recently been moved to its permanent home at the park.
“It’s an amazing addition,” Greenfield parks superintendent Ellen Kuker said of the statue.
The statue, which was unveiled in September and was temporarily displayed at the James Whitcomb Riley Boyhood Home and Museum, depicts Vawter in the midst of painting, with the center of his canvas open so visitors can take photos showing themselves in the frame.
Depot Street Park is now officially open to the public, and visitors willing to brave the cold weather can visit Vawter’s statue now. Other features at the park include a 12-foot-wide concrete walkway, sway benches, bike racks, and interactive art displays. Starting this summer, its covered stage will be host to a series of musical performances.
The art piece will also act as an attraction along Greenfield’s forthcoming Riley Literary Trail and will help draw attention to the artistic accomplishments of the Greenfield area that go beyond Riley’s poetry.
“Having a statue at a prominent park is definitely a great first step,” Kuker said.
The Riley Literary Trail, a project planned to be funded by Stellar Communities grant money, is currently in the planning stages. A series of public meetings have been held to seek residents’ feedback about what they’d like to see from the trail.
The Riley Literary Trail is planned as a 0.7-mile loop that will begin at the Pennsy Trail and make downtown Greenfield more accessible to pedestrians and bicyclists while highlighting the city’s cultural heritage. It will connect the Riley Boyhood Home and Museum to retail and commercial businesses, neighborhoods and governmental services.
David Spencer, the director of marketing at NineStar Connect and a fan of Vawter’s art, led efforts to raise funds for the Vawter statue starting in 2019. It was sculpted by artist Bill Wolfe, who also created the “Reading with Riley” statue that sits outside of the Riley Boyhood Home and Museum on West Main Street.
“I’m an artist, and a painter as well as a sculptor, so for me it was quite an honor to make a sculpture of a fellow Hoosier artist,” Wolfe told the Daily Reporter in September.
Originally from West Virginia, Vawter moved to Greenfield as a child and resided there until, as an adult, he joined an artists’ colony in Brown County. Many artists moved to the town of Nashville after the prominent painter T.C. Steele made it his home.
Vawter was the illustrator for many of Riley’s poems, working with him on 11 books. His cartoon style brought Riley’s poetry to life, and he frequently used Greenfield residents as the models for his illustrations. He also painted landscapes, typically working outside and in a French-influenced Impressionist style that was popular with Indiana artists at the time. Among his Hoosier contemporaries, his paintings remain some of the most popular and valuable.