Florence Bird Studio, LLC

While looking through my files and references, I realize that it has been many years since the beginnings of the Mississippi River Sculpture Park. Some folks may not remember the original vision. In 2002 I started learning about the history of Prairie du Chien, near the confluence of the Wisconsin and the Mississippi Rivers. From personal stories, archeological records, news articles, books and library research I found that people from all corners of the world had come to this place over time to work, trade and live. I began to realize that this was a place worthy of an important monument.
In order to illustrate the full significance of this place in history, it would be necessary to have many historical figures representing different times. I found that there is new enlarging technology that helps make it possible to translate small clay maquettes into life-size bronze sculpture. This allowed the possibility of making several life-size sculptures for the sculpture park. Previously each sculpture would have had to have been made life-size in clay in the studio and transported to the foundry, a near impossible task. As it is now, we can use the most modern technology along with the most ancient bronze casting techniques so the vision can encompass this whole amazing history. Here is our original Mission Statement:

“To provide unique aesthetic and educational opportunities to experience 12,000 years of history at the confluence of the Wisconsin and Mississippi Rivers.”

As the MRSP stands now, it is the first chapter of this grand history. As it develops it will become the grand and significant monument as intended.
Following is a list of the historical characters for the sculpture park and their timelines:
Timeline of the MRSP sculptures:

10,000 BCE (last ice age) ~
Mastodon Hunter (1 150)

5,000 BCE to 12,000 CE
Mound Builder (speciļ¬c to Oneota culture (1,000 CE)

800 CE to 1500 CE
Mississippian (1300 CE)

1600 — 1800 +
Nicholas Perm! (1644 — 1717)
Fr. Jacques Marquette (1637 — 1675)
Louis Jolict (1645 - 1700)
Early Voyageurs I600 — 1800)
Julian Coryer, voyageur (1833 +)
I800 — 1900
Black Hawk (1767 — 1838)
Zebulon Pike (1779 — 1813)
Zachary Taylor (1784 — 1850)
Chief Shin-Ga~Bo- Wassin (1763 - I828)
Dr. Wm Beaumont (1785 — I853)
Fr. Samuel Mazzuchelli (1807 — I864)
Jefferson Davis (1808 — I889)
“Aunt” Mary Ann IaBuche (1820 - ?)
British Red Coat(l8l2 -1814 in PdC)
John Lawler (1857 — 1874 active in PdC)
Minnie Owens, the rninstrel player (1887 - ?)
1900 - Present day
Chippewa Elder Woman (1890 + ?)
Victorian Lady (circa 1900)
First Chief Winncshiek (18? - 18? (signed treaty in PdC 1828)
Chief Clayton Winncshiek (Present day)
Judith & Nina Dousman (pictured in 1891)
Emma Big Bear (1869 — I968)
Captain Wm. D. Bowel1(present day)

Dr. Beaumont and Son Israel: (installed June 10, 2006)

* Florence  Bird, sculptor
People at the Prairie du Chien Historical Society told me about the experiments that Dr. Beaumont performed on his patient, Alexis St.Martin. At the Fort Crawford Medical Museum, I saw a picture of Dr.Beaumont and his family including his son Israel. Reginald Horseman from Milwaukee gave a talk about Dr. Beaumont and his family at the unveiling ceremony. The well-known name Beaumont is derived from Dr. Beaumont who was famous for his discoveries of the digestive system observed through the opening into Alexis St.Martin’s stomach, which was from a healed, but not closed bullet wound. These discoveries are still included in present day medical texts.
I chose to portray Dr. Beaumont as a family man and put the image of the caduceus on his coat buttons to signify that he was a medical doctor. When I 2016-05-19 09-55-15learned that Dr. Beaumont had a toupee we had fun at the foundry speculating whether we should make this a separate removable bronze hair piece. I put a frog in the hands of his son Israel because I figured that little boys are fascinated with live wiggly things.
Florence Bird Studio, LLC
PO Box 126
Spring Green, WI 53588

Sculptor’s Corner, March, 2016

027_25The first, and most talked about, historical figure for the Mississippi River Sculpture Park was Black Hawk, (Makataimeshekiakiak, in his own Sauk language).  There are several books written about the “Black Hawk War” and some can be found at the Villa Louis gift store.  Here are some notes I have about the making of the sculpture:

Black Hawk: (installed  Oct. 8, 2005)

After reading the autobiography of Black Hawk, given to me by Char Hawks in Dubuque, I saw the death mask impression of  Black Hawk’s head in the museum at Rock Island, Illinois.  I have photos on file of this display.  This helped me to correct the bone structure of the head and face of Black Hawk. (Photo: Chloris Lowe in unveiling ceremony of Black Hawk sculpture)

John Fenner loaned me a replica of the King George medal that Black Hawk wore and I was able to make a mold and take a wax impression so that I could include it in bronze on the sculpture.  I understand that Black Hawk always wore this medal instead of one of Jefferson, President of the United States.

DSC_0013At first the bronze name plaque of the installed sculpture included the tribal names of both Sauk and Fox.   These tribes are now united, but I was informed that Black Hawk was truly only Sauk so I removed the “Fox” lettering from the plaque.

On the day of the unveiling of the sculpture in the Mississippi  River /sculpture Park, Chloris Lowe, past president of the Ho-Chunk tribe, came to bless the sculpture with sage tobacco,  a sacred beaver skin and other artifacts.

Photo: Black Hawk sculpture detail showing the King George Medal he wore

It was an exciting day with hawks and perhaps an eagle flying overhead as the  sculpture was unveiled and presented to the /city of Prairie du Chien.

Florence  Bird, sculptor

Florence Bird Studio, LLC

PO Box 126

Spring Green, WI 53588


Sculptor’s Corner , February, 2016

unnamedThe Mississippi River, to me, had always been an exotic “far away place” since I first heard about it in Fourth Grade and read about it in Mark Twain’s books.  I grew up in Ohio and the Mississippi River was as distant for me as the Amazon in  South America or the Nile in Egypt.  It brought to mind pictures of Steamboats and and New Orleans, “Glamorous Ladies and handsome Gamblers”, and explorers like Fr. Jacques Marquette and Louis Joliet.  As I stood there by the Mississippi River in 2001 I began to wonder “Who really stood here before me?”
This started me on one of the most fascinating journeys of my life, looking into the history and prehistory of this place, St. Feriole Island and the City of Prairie du Chien, Wisconsin.  I began asking questions, fist at the local Wisconsin Information Center and Chamber of Commerce.  From there I
was launched into a wonderful trip of exploration. I found information at all of the following places:
* Fort Crawford Medical Museum
* Villa Louis
* Wyalusing State Park
* Prairie du Chien and Spring Green libraries
* Wisconsin Historical Society in Madison
* Archeology Center at the University of Wisconsin, La Crosse
* Internet searches about cultures on the Mississippi
* News articles from local newspapers
* Dover coloring books of Native American symbols
* Grand Excursion planning meetings in Prairie du Chien
* Great River Road meetings along route 35 in Wisconsin
* Mississippi River Explorer Cruises
* Prairie du Chien Island Reuse Committee
* Friends who showed me secret places & rock art along the river.
* Chloris Lowe Jr. and Chloris Lowe Sr. of the Ho-Chunk Nation
* Descendants and relatives of Native Americans and local residents
* Pikes Peak Iowa State Park
* Marquette and McGregor, Iowa historical museums
* Effigy Mounds National Monument
The list goes on and on.  In 2016 people continue to come up to me and tell me about their ancestors and businesses and activities that used to be by the Big River and who used to live on St Feriole Island.  Community Development Alternatives in Prairie du Chien has archival maps of the Island.  Someone has dug up mastodon bones in the sand by the river. This is a never ending story.  I continue to find more and more information about this vital river confluence region where the Wisconsin River meets the great Mississippi.
I have been trained as an artist with my Masters Degree in sculpture and drawing and have had many years of experience both in making art and teaching students of all ages.  My focus has remained on figurative work hoping someday to make life size bronze public sculpture.
In 2001 my studio was in an old barn and, because of family problems, I had no money, only a desire and inspiration, to develop a sculpture park commemorating these people from history and prehistory who “stood there before me” on ST. Feriole Island by the great Mississippi River.
Someone loaned me the money to buy clay so that I could start making models of these figures.  That started the journey.


This year, 2016, I am starting a new chapter with the Mississippi River Sculpture Park. I am asking the MRSP Board to take the reins of administration and development of this project so that I can concentrate on being the artist sculptor for the statues and so that I can share about the history of the project during its first 15 years of life.

I am gathering together photos and files and stories about the sculpture park and how it all started with the inspiration down by the big river. It seems it is time to write more about my personal experience with this grand project and how it has all unfolded. From time to time I will share a few paragraphs about the beginnings, the research, the help from friends and the work I have done to help bring this historical monument into reality. In my studio I have the sculpture maquettes for all 26 of the sculptures planned for the park. My greatest wish is to see them all installed life size in bronze in the Mississippi River Sculpture Park. I so enjoy the whole process of making each one come to life. This is my “life work”

It all started here in 2001 on St. Feriole Island at Prairie du Chien, Wisconsin, as I was standing in the sand by the big Mississippi River:


Footprints in the Sand

The inspiration for the Mississippi River Sculpture Park came with footprints in the sand by the river on St. Feriole Island at Prairie du Chien, Wisconsin  I wondered “Who stood here before me?”  Then I began to learn about some of the people who had come to this island from ages past, people who had used these rivers as travelways, and people of the present who still live by the rivers. 
I conceived of a place where the the people’s stories might come together,  where a Mastodon Hunter might share his story with the traveling Victorian Lady, and Fr. Samuel Mazzuchelli could share his experiences with Fr. Jacques Marquette.  What would Black Hawk say about the Mound Builder to the Dousman Children?  People from12,000 years of history could come together around a fire circle to tell their stories and share their experiences and beliefs with one another. 
This is the story of Prairie du Chien and this confluence region where the peaceful Wisconsin River joins the great Mississippi River, a story of living history.  I imagined this sculpture park as a gathering of people from the pages of history and prehistory as an author might imagine an historical novel, historically authentic with enough artistic license to bring vitality to these diverse lives.  The present day community of Prairie du Chien reflects this story in it’s diversity.  This story is about our roots and our nation’s roots, and significant for the understanding of world history.
Because I am a sculptor, as I learned about these people who came from all corners of the world, I began to make clay models of them.  And now, as the community  supports the work, we are able to enlarge the figures to life size and have them cast in bronze for a permanent monument so that many many generations of visitors may see and touch our story.
This is a unique story and a unique sculpture park.  There is nothing like it anywhere else in the world.
Florence Bird, master sculptor
PO Box 126
Spring Green, WI 53588

Creating a Bronze Sculpture

Sculptor’s Corner – bronze casting It has been suggested that there may be a way to lower the cost of making the life size bronze statues for the Mississippi River Sculpture Park. They are very expensive ranging from $75,000.00 to over $100,000.00 each. I thought it might be helpful to talk about the process that leads to the cost of each statue:
It may not be understood that these are one-of-a-kind works of art made in the tradition of famous museum pieces and other public bronze monuments. They are each made especially for the Mississippi River Sculpture Park in Prairie du Chien, to illustrate the history and prehistory of this area. These statues are not mass produced decorative garden pieces. Each one requires its own separate production process starting with the inspiration of the artist. The whole process takes from 6 to 8 months for each statue. The techniques and tools are similar to ones used for bronze statues of all ages. Each bronze statue will last for thousands of years. Following is a brief outline of the work involved (not including the years of ongoing historical research):

  1. Artist modeling of the original figure about ¼ life size. This is made with fine plasteline clay over sculptor’s armature wire, using special modeling tools.
  2. Production mold made at the art foundry.A special rubber mold, backed by plaster, of the original artist’s model.
  3. Hard copy taken from the production mold.this is usually plaster or resin. It may also be wax for casting a small bronze sculpture.
  4. Shipping hard copy to the enlarging company.currently in California)
  5. Enlarging the figure. The hard copy of the small figure is scanned and enlarged to life size by computer. The enlarged figure is laser cut out of extruded Styrofoam.
  6. Life size Styrofoam figure is cut in pieces, packed and shipped back to the artist’s studio.
  7. The artist reassembles the life size foam figure and covers it with plasteline clay for the final sculpting process.
  8. Final sculpting process by the artist. This is when the detailing of the portrait and character of the figure is completed.
  9. Final life size clay model is returned to the foundry.
  10. At the foundry the figure is sectioned off for piece molds.
  11. Each piece mold is painted inside with sculpture wax. There is a special wax for this purpose. The final wax impression is about ¾ inch thick.
  12. The wax impression is removed from each of the piece molds and attached to wax stilts called sprues. The sprues, in turn, are attached to a baseboard.
  13. Wax pieces on sprues are dipped in ceramic slurry. The wax is dipped and dried several times to ensure an even coating.
  14. Slurry coated wax pieces are placed into a kiln. The wax melts leaving the ceramic mold hollow.
  15. Bronze is melted in a crucible in the furnace.The bronze is melted to about 2,100 degrees f. while the wax is being melted in the kiln.
  16. The clean hot ceramic molds are removed from the kiln and placed upside down in a bed of sand.
  17. The molten bronze is poured into the ceramic molds. The crucible is lifted by special tongs and placed into the pouring bar.
  18. The crucible containing the melted bronze is lifted and carried to the ceramic molds in the bed of sand.
  19. Melted bronze is poured into the ceramic molds.
  20. Ceramic molds are removed from the bronze pieces.
  21. Bronze pieces are sand blasted to remove fire scale.
  22. Bronze pieces are trimmed and welded together to assemble the figure.
  23. The bronze figure is polished and detailed.
  24. Patina is applied to the finished figure.This is a spray with different chemicals used for color.
  25. The finished sculpture is shipped to the Mississippi River Sculpture Park.
This is a complicated process involving several people working many hours, days and weeks. There are also the costs of materials and tools, utilities and overhead. Bronze, for instance, goes up in cost every year. There is the added cost of shipping and insurance and the bronze nameplate installed by the statue. I use Vanguard Sculpture services in Milwaukee. I find it is the best art bronze foundry in the area.
To pay for the sculptures it takes many people contributing small amounts and/or one person or organization contributing one large amount. Most often it is a combination of both of these. The whole process of making and installing a statue takes money, time and effort by many people. It is good to remember that they will stand in place for many generations to come.
Please feel free to contact me with any questions about the making of these statues.
Florence Bird, Artist

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