Spirit of the Rivers Monument
A massive sculpture will soon appear on the Lake Michigan shoreline between Manitowoc and Two Rivers, Wisconsin. Spirit of the Rivers, a tribute to the Woodland Indians of the Upper Great Lakes, consists of three 10-foot-high human figures and a 20-foot birch bark canoe in bronze. Created by sculptor R.T. Wallen, the sculpture will be dedicated on Sunday, September 16th, at 2:00 p.m. at 4815 Memorial Drive, Two Rives, WI. The public is invited to attend.
The sculpture is expected to become a major tourist attraction. As one expert described it, “There is no monument in the state of Wisconsin - nor to my knowledge - the Midwest, that compares to the Spirit of the Rivers." - Anton Rajer, author of Public Sculpture in Wisconsin.
The monumental bronze group portrays a young Native American man portaging a canoe with his female companion beside him and an Elder welcoming them ashore. The sculpture celebrates the origins and long history of human settlement along these shores.
The finished sculpture. Photo courtesy Ann Wind
It also represents the beginnings of the maritime tradition in this region, a tradition that began with the humble birch bark canoe and continued to the vast ship-building industry of the 19th and 20th centuries, the manufacture of 28 submarines in World War II, and the luxury yacht business of today.
Dignitaries from Manitowoc, Two Rivers, Wisconsin and Michigan tribes and the Wisconsin Department of Tourism will speak, and The Menominee Boys and Girls Drumming Circle will welcome the crowd.
Directed by a 12-member volunteer Board of Directors and privately funded by financial and in-kind contributions from individuals, businesses, and foundations, Spirit of the Rivers was created in a donated studio space in downtown Manitowoc. Over one hundred volunteers helped with fund-raising, studio improvements, and hosting studio open houses.
Over a thousand elementary school students from the area visited the studio to observe R.T. Wallen at work. Each student drew a picture inspired by the visit, and some of these student drawings are on display at the Rahr-West Art Museum as part of an exhibition of Wallen’s work. The University of Wisconsin Manitowoc offered an interdisciplinary course based on Spirit of the Rivers for three years.
A book of that title by award-winning author and historian Kerry Trask is currently in press and will be available for purchase at the dedication and at the museum.
Sculptor R.T. Wallen was born and raised in Manitowoc but lived his adult life in Alaska, developing an international clientele for his art. His most recent project was a life-size breaching humpback whale sculpture with waterworks for Juneau, Alaska. He returned to Manitowoc specifically to create the Spirit of the Rivers project for his hometown.