New Mexico to Deliver 100th Statue in September

Posted March 16, 2005 at 5:08pm

When New Mexico officials unveil their second submission to Statuary Hall this fall, the collection will reach its full cadre of 100 statues for the first time in its 141-year history.

Organizers from the Land of Enchantment are planning a September ceremony to dedicate a marble statue of Popé, the San Juan Pueblo Indian strategist and warrior who led the Pueblo Revolt of 1680.

While the statue stands to draw significant attention because of its role, Herman Agoyo, co-chairman of New Mexico’s Statuary Hall Commission, admits the timing wasn’t intentional.

“It just happened that way, it wasn’t planned that we’d be the last one,” Agoyo said.

In fact, the commission had initially planned to dedicate the statue in 2003, but fundraising shortfalls, coupled with organizational issues, pushed back the group’s timeline.

But a recent infusion of $100,000 in state funds, along with a handful of large-scale donations, helped push the group to its goal of nearly $200,000, Agoyo said.

With artist Cliff Fragua — who, according to New Mexico officials, will be the first American Indian to create a work included in the collection — nearly finished with the statue, planners have turned their attention to organizing dual state and Capitol unveiling ceremonies.

“Of course, we want it to run as smoothly as possible, like every state,” said New Mexico Deputy Cultural Affairs Secretary Bergit Salazar, who attended the dedication ceremony for Nevada’s second statue last week to gather ideas for her state’s event.

Salazar noted that plans are in the early stages of preparation, with few details finalized. “It’s a long process, but in the end it’s going to be worth it,” she added.

New Mexico officials are planning to unveil the statue first in the San Juan Pueblo in May, allowing it to remain on display for several months before moving it to Washington.

The state’s Statuary Hall Commission is also planning to include photographs of that ceremony in an official book that will be published for the September dedication. “Popé, Architect of the First American Revolution, August 10, 1680” will showcase statements from New Mexico officials as well as a history of the statue’s creation, Agoyo said.

While New Mexico’s second statue will bring the collection to full capacity, the marble likeness of Popé will not be the last new face to grace the Capitol’s halls.

Under legislation approved by Congress in 2000, several states are seeking to exchange the statues that now represent them in the Capitol, swapping out obscure historical figures for more recognizable personas.

Kansas became the first state to take advantage of the new provision, exchanging a statue of former Kansas Gov. George W. Glick (D) for a sculpture of President Dwight D. Eisenhower in 2003.

Likewise, officials in Alabama are seeking to include a more modern figure in the collection.

Lawmakers there have approved an exchange that would replace a 1908 statue depicting former Rep. Jabez Lamar Monroe Curry (D) for one of Helen Keller, who was born in Tuscumbia, a rural town in northwest Alabama.

“They see this as a fitting way to honor her and her contributions, not only to Alabama, but the nation as a whole,” said a spokesman for Alabama Gov. Bob Riley (R), who suggested the exchange during his term as a House lawmaker after realizing most constituents could not identify Curry when touring the Capitol.

The Helen Keller Campaign and Artist Selection Committee expects to select an artist for the project next week and hopes to have the artwork installed by summer 2006, said the group’s co-chairman, University of South Alabama Vice President Joe Busta.

The statue will depict Keller during her childhood, around the time that she first discovered and understood language.

“The piece that we’re looking at we think is a breakthrough piece symbolically,” said Busta, who called Keller the “best known Alabamian worldwide.”

The statue will be the first in the collection to depict a person with disabilities, Busta said, adding that he hopes the piece will become a “destination point” for visitors to the Capitol.

To fund the project, the group needs to raise $400,000, of which $250,000 has already been collected, the Riley spokesman said.

The committee has yet to determine where the statue of Curry will be placed once it is removed from the Capitol, but Busta said there are several possibilities, including the state Capitol, the Alabama Archives building or Samford University in Birmingham.

The Kansas effort, lead by Rep. Jim Ryun (R), seeks to replace a statue of former Sen. John James Ingalls (R) with a sculpture of aviator Amelia Earhart, who disappeared over the Pacific Ocean while attempting to fly around the world in 1937.