Deena C. Bouknight – Contributing Writer
A sculpture of three historic women figures representing Macon County will soon be a permanent fixture on Main Street in Franklin. However, before the sculpture, titled “Sowing the Seeds of the Future,” can be installed at its forever home, the 1,500-pound, 7-foot work travelled recently from Western North Carolina to one of the nation’s only large-scale foundries, Pyrology, in Bastrop, Texas, (near Austin) in order to undergo its final bronze casting.
Traveling to Texas to witness the noteworthy event on May 12 were three representatives of the Folk Heritage Association of Macon County (FHAMC): Claire Suminski, Mary Polanski and Marty Greeble. The sculpture project, now in its fifth year, was partly the brainchild of Barbara McRae, vice mayor for the Town of Franklin until her death in 2021. The sculpture was created as part of FHAMC’s Women’s History Trail project and will be a prominent aspect of the educational Nikwasi Mound area in Franklin.
With the bronzing taking place on May 12, Cashiers-based sculptor Wesley Wofford said “Sowing the Seeds” is ready for installation, which is expected to take place later this year. Wofford is an internationally renowned, Academy Award-winning sculptor, whose interest in advanced translucent silicones led him to develop his own formulas and techniques used in Hollywood. His commissioned projects included the nine-foot Harriet Tubman “The Journey to Freedom” sculpture featuring Macon County models that garnered much attention in 2021-’22. The original sculpture was permanently installed in a private building in Dallas, Texas, while a replica of “The Journey to Freedom” toured the United States.
At his large Cashiers studio, Wofford works on every minute detail of various sculpture projects, from sketches to seeking the right models to building various scale replicas – before the final sculpture is created. The models selected to represent the sculpture’s three culturally and historically significant figures included sculptor and artist Angela Cunningham, who modeled Timoxena Siler Sloan, a white woman; Blue Jazz lead singer Delphine Kirkland, who modeled Sally (last name unknown), a slave; and, Wahlalah Brown of the Eastern Band of the Cherokee Indians, who modeled Rebecca Morris, a Cherokee woman.
A five-year grassroots campaign to raise funds to pay for the more than $400,000 sculpture project (including installation and site costs, etc.) generated donations not only from the Town of Franklin but also from local philanthropists and individuals as well as ongoing monies contributed through volunteer-organized sales of cookies, native plants, lemonade, books, and more. Currently, funds are being raised for the installation site, landscaping, and other possible expenses.
From Texas, Suminski communicated that she, Polanski, and Greeble were “privileged” to partake in the momentous occasion of watching the sculpture cast in bronze.
“We observed the workers getting any little nubs and marks ground and torched off,” said Suminski. “They cleaned all the dust and sand off … very detailed work. Then we went to an area where they apply different patinas to look at, and we narrowed it down to two. We all discussed it and decided that it would be good to have a darker patina at the bottom of sculptures that faded to a lighter patina by the time it got to their faces.”
Once the sculpture was completely clean, an acid wash was added before the bronzing patina. After completion, the three Macon County women were allowed to assist in polishing the sculpture.
“This is an experience I’ll never forget,” said Suminski, who pointed out that her grandfather and father both worked for a foundry on the Hudson River when she was growing up in the Adirondacks of New York. She enjoyed the memory that the “clanging metal and smell of fire” brought to her senses.
“I felt so honored that the three of us ladies from the Women’s History Trail were able to see the whole casting process. Every employee we met was talented at their job, caring, and invested … they love all the sculptors they work with, but Wesley is one of their favorites!”
“An opportunity of a lifetime,” shared Greeble, who is also media specialist at Franklin High School. “Seeing the sculpture in the foundry left me speechless and teary-eyed. The diversity of the women in this monumental piece of public art is so meaningful to the message of our project. And, I am in awe of Wesley Wofford’s artistry. The sculpture is absolutely magnificent!”
“The first thing that comes to mind is that I didn’t anticipate getting such a great insight into the artisan side of this,” said Polanski. “The workers at the foundry are so crucial to the outcome of the art. The group of people we got to meet were just very good at what they did, and every part of that process was impressive. We enjoyed being included so intimately in the work process. And seeing an artist like Wesley work and stay so focused just fascinates me. He not only is at the top of his field, but he is such a good person and so supportive of this project.”
The three women from Franklin indicated that the sculpture will remain at the foundry until the date is chosen – most likely this fall – to install “Sowing the Seeds for the Future” permanently in Franklin.
“The Women’s History Trail [Board] will be busy this summer planning and designing a pocket park by the [Main Street] bridges for the site of installation,” said Greeble.
“We are working with the Town – working all together – to determine a time, depending on how the site work progresses. And we are still raising donations for the site preparation, to achieve a good, comfortable finish line for this important project,” added Polanski.