If you’ve been around town lately, chances are you’ve seen 2- and 3-foot bronze maquettes – miniature likenesses of the 10-foot Chief Standing Bear sculpture that was unveiled last October at Centennial Mall.
Since the maquettes have appeared at a wide range of public places – area restaurants, art galleries, universities, politicians’ offices, the governor’s home, even the Brew House in Crete – you might think 50 or more are on display. But that’s not the case, said Judi gaiashkibos, executive director of the Nebraska Commission on Indian Affairs (NCIA).
“We have two 2-footers and two 3-footers to keep track of,” gaiashkibos said.
Finding safe transportation to fill requests to buy or display the maquettes has required a substantial amount of NCIA staff members’ time. Gaiashkibos transported one herself last December.
“I had one strapped into my backseat like a child, and I covered it with an afghan to hide it,” she said. “I drove it to Joe Starita’s house the next day. I told him I didn’t want to be shopping at SouthPointe and have someone break into my car and take it.”
The maquettes were duplicated from renowned sculptor Benjamin Victor’s preliminary clay models, which he created to help finalize his design for the 10-foot sculpture that is now a permanent fixture at Centennial Mall.
Maquette sales to help fund Native American scholarships
While only four maquettes are being displayed around town, 40 limited-edition (numbered) maquettes are being sold. About 25 percent of the sale proceeds will go to NCIA’s Chief Standing Bear Scholarship Endowment Fund, which currently awards two $2,500 scholarships each year to Native American high school and college students. Part of those proceeds will pay for ongoing maintenance of the 10-foot Standing Bear sculpture at Centennial Mall.
As of late January, $22,200 of the $111,000 scholarship endowment goal had been raised through sales of 11 maquettes. The funding will either increase the amount of the two scholarships given or increase the number of $2,500 scholarships awarded each year, gaiashkibos said.
“It’s fun to do meaningful work,” gaiashkibos said of awarding the scholarships. “I get to see how successful Native American people can be when given the opportunity.”
As an example, she notes that former Standing Bear scholarship recipient Lucas LaRose is now an attorney who serves as a commissioner on the NCIA board.
Nebraska’s First Lady a supporter
Nebraska’s First Lady Susanne Shore was among the early maquette buyers.
“After seeing the actual statue of Standing Bear on Centennial Mall, I knew that I wanted a maquette for our home,” Shore said. “Not only is it beautiful, it represents to me his bravery, compassion and leadership. Standing Bear is a state treasure, and I hope that this project creates an even better appreciation of the impact he made on Nebraska and our nation.
“My respect for Standing Bear is genuine and deep,” Shore continued. “If I achieve one thing as First Lady, I hope it is that I have helped Judi and others make sure that Standing Bear is one of the most recognized symbols for our state.”
Shore located funding for a One State One Book initiative by the Nebraska 150 Celebration to provide a copy of “Chief Standing Bear of the Ponca” by Virginia Driving Hawk Sneve for every fifth-grader in the state in 2017. The 27,000 books were accompanied by a specially developed curriculum for teachers.
A lasting tribute
The maquettes, like the larger 10-foot sculpture, pay lasting tribute to Chief Standing Bear’s life and 1879 landmark civil rights victory in U.S. District Court in Omaha.
The federal government forced Standing Bear and his Ponca Tribe to march 500 miles in 1877 to a reservation in Oklahoma – now known as the Ponca tribe’s Trail of Tears. Many tribal members died of hunger, unsanitary conditions and malaria during their first year on the Oklahoma reservation.
To honor his son Bear Shield’s dying wish to be buried at home in northern Nebraska, Standing Bear and 30 members of his tribe braved frigid winter weather in January 1879 to return to their homeland and were arrested for leaving the reservation. But before they were forced to return to Oklahoma, a journalist wrote about their story and found two attorneys to represent Standing Bear.
Standing Bear’s 1879 trial determined that Native Americans are “persons within the meaning of the law,” and therefore entitled to the rights afforded to all others. Benjamin Victor’s sculpture and maquettes depict Standing Bear reaching out in that courtroom, stating, “My hand is not the color of yours, but if I pierce it, I shall feel pain. If you pierce your hand, you also feel pain. The blood that will flow from mine will be of the same color as yours. The same God made us both.
“I am a Man.”
That simple yet powerful declaration echoes through the annals of U.S. history nearly 140 years later as a defining moment in our nation’s struggles for equality and civil rights.
How to purchase your maquette
The NCIA is selling 25 of the 2-foot maquettes for $5,700 each and 15 of the 3-foot pieces for $12,500 each. Once the limited edition pieces are sold, no more will ever be produced, gaiashkibos said. Send your order and payment to the Nebraska Commission on Indian Affairs, P.O. Box 94981, Lincoln, NE 68509. Make checks payable to the Lincoln Community Foundation. Be sure to provide a physical address for shipping.
If you have questions or would like to display a maquette in a public location, contact the NCIA office at 402-471-3475 or firstname.lastname@example.org. To find out where maquettes are currently being displayed, see the Chief Standing Bear Trail page on Facebook.