Menominee concern for preserving resources is inspiration for Kewaunee park sculpture
KEWAUNEE – The life-size bronze sculpture in Harbor Park on the Lake Michigan shoreline carries more significance than just being a beautiful work of art.
To Dr. Bill Faller, the artist who created the work of two young Menominee men with a sturgeon they'd just speared, it's also a reminder of the need to conserve natural resources as Native American nations seek to do.
The sculpture was installed upon a stone pedestal and dedicated this fall — the culmination of about seven years of research and work by the 81-year-old Kewaunee resident, who retired in 2003 after years working as a pathologist with HSHS St. Mary's Hospital in Green Bay.
It's not Faller's first sculpture on public display in Kewaunee; he has another bronze honoring firefighters in front of the Kewaunee Fire Department station. A third work resides at Rahr-West Art Museum in Manitowoc.
He's created works with environmental themes as well, such as two related sculptures honoring Nobel Prize-winning agronomist and plant pathologist Norman Borlaug, who developed strains of grains that produced high yields in developing and famine-racked countries. Those two are on display at Borlaug's farm in Cresco, Iowa.
The work in Harbor Park reflects Faller's concern for water quality in Kewaunee County, a longstanding and continuing issue in a place that relies heavily on its dairy farming industry and has 16 concentrated animal feeding operations — industrial-sized dairy farms — that create tons of manure that too often get into water wells and waterways, along with numerous small farms. Soil erosion from farms and other developments has also affected local waters.
Faller said he was inspired to create the Menominee sculpture after seeing a wide ribbon of brown running down the Kewaunee River and into Lake Michigan after heavy rain.
"I'd go down and look at the shoreline, and every time we'd have a significant rainfall, I'd see the river turning sediment brown," Faller said. "That always really bothered me."
He noted that the Menominee once lived in the area and the sturgeon fishing that would have helped sustain the tribe wouldn't be possible now in Kewaunee. Sturgeon prefer to live and spawn in rock-covered streams and rivers, but the sediment now in the river makes it inhospitable to the fish.
"Sturgeons were all over the lakes here, and they kinda disappeared because the streams (feeding them) silted up because of the farming practices around here," Faller said. "I grew up on small farms … It upsets me that there's all this careless farming around here."
The park sculpture thus is a call-out on the importance of clean water and an homage to the Menominee. Faller said he's long been interested in Native American thinking and culture, and he admires and believes in the Menominee ethos of making use of resources while not depleting or damaging them for future use. The inscription on the base of the sculpture says "The sturgeon is a natural gift from The Creator" in the Menominee language.
"The Menominee always felt resources were to be used but never depleted, so the supply of resources remains constant," Faller said.
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Faller started with the idea for his work of two small Menominee boys fishing and as recently as four years ago was making small-scale models for such a sculpture. But a trip to the Menominee reservation and talk with David Grignon, historic preservation director for the Menominee Indian Tribe of Wisconsin in Keshena, led him to change the subjects to young spearfishers.
"(Grignon) said, 'no, no, it has to be sturgeon,'" Faller said with a chuckle.
The subjects in this sculpture, as with Faller's other works, are meant to look as realistic as possible. Faller said he used photos from the Menominee to make the faces and figures of the spearfishers look like they would belong to the tribe. He added the standing man is meant to appear joyous after spearing the sturgeon, while the squatting man is showing reverence for the fish.
After finalizing the mold for the sculpture, the bronze was cast by Jeff Adams, who operates a foundry in Mt. Morris, Illinois.
The dedication was attended by representatives from the Menominee Indian Tribe of Wisconsin along with Mayor Jason Jelinek, state Sen. Andre Jacque and state Rep. Joel Kitchens.
"It was wonderful," Faller said about the ceremony. "It was really fun, just a delight to see people there (from the Menominee tribe)."
The project came together with help not just from the tribe but also from the Kewaunee Rotary, local volunteers and city workers. Jelinek said city officials are happy the effort enabled them to open a relationship with the Menominee.
"We are excited about the new piece of art in our downtown," Jelinek said in an email. "I stayed in contact with Chairman (Joan) Delabreau from the Menominee Tribe and want to thank them for their participation in the statues dedication ceremony and openness to building a relationship. In a time when communities are torn and statues are being removed, we have managed to create a relationship and raise a beautiful piece of art and culture."
For Faller, this was the latest step in a lifelong interest in art, which he said began to develop as a child during World War II.
"During the war, my father was gone the entire war (stationed in Burma from 1941 to '45), and my mother worked," Faller said. "She used to drop me off with Grandma Faller. Her brother was an artist, and there were quite a few of his sculptures in her apartment."
He retained that interest in art but didn't start creating it until his retirement. He started by carving duck decoys, but an uncle who was an interior decorator convinced Faller that he was talented enough to learn fine art sculpting.
Faller, who had taken some classes in sculpture at The Art Institute of Chicago many years ago, went on to study bronze casting and stone carving at the Peninsula School of Art in Fish Creek. He continues to carve in stone and wood; current projects in his small studio in downtown Kewaunee include wooden buffalo heads and small marble carvings, as well as more duck decoys.
Whatever the art he creates, Faller said he believes people can see more than just beauty and detailed craftsmanship in them. That goes especially for the Menominee men and their sturgeon.
"I really believe if someone looks at a piece of sculpture and thinks about it, they should feel it enhancing their soul, they should learn something from it, that it was a really good experience," Faller said. "I hope they have a feeling of reward for having looked at (the park sculpture), of having learned something from it."
Contact Christopher Clough at 920-741-7952, 920-562-8900 or [email protected].
This article originally appeared on Green Bay Press-Gazette: Menominee concern for preserving resources is inspiration for Kewaunee park sculpture