GLADSTONE, Mich. (WZMQ) – Some historic statues in Delta County are getting a facelift thanks to a partnership between two communities. They are also becoming a better representation of the area’s culture.
The cement statues that stand and sit within a fence in Gladstone’s Van Cleve Park date back to around 1910. They depict real Native Americans who once lived in Northern Midland County.
“They were over at Garth Point years ago,” said Robert Brown, acting supervisor for the Gladstone Parks and Recreation Department. “It got repainted back in 1982 or 1983, and then from there they were just donated to the park, and they’ve been here for over 20 – 25 years.”
In that time, the statues have suffered some wear and tear, which Brown says was becoming more noticeable.
“This year’s budget was scheduled to have the split-rail finished,” he explained. “When we got the split-rail finished, it kind of made the statues look old and drabby. We just decided to reach out into the community and see if we could have Hannahville do a project with us.”
Constance Lightfoot, art teacher at Hannahville Indian School, got a group of student volunteers together to take on the task.
“There was re rod exposed, so he wanted to mortar up bits and give them a full new paint job,” Lightfoot said.
Lightfoot and the students got to work. They started with a base coat, then moved on to larger details like clothing and hair.
Some students quickly realized painting statues outdoors is a bit more challenging than painting a canvas in the classroom.
“When we put the first layer on you could see that it was cracking a lot, so we had to go in with another layer to stop the cracking,” said senior Estrella Paz.
“Having to wash the brushes with cold water was really cold,” sophomore Emma Leiskau recalled. “My hands were cold and I just had to keep going back and deal with the cold weather and water.”
The young artists aren’t just restoring the statues. They are making them more culturally accurate.
“The skin color was kind of off,” Paz said of the statues before the painting began.
“Before, they were just dark brown everywhere and that was it,” Lightfoot said. “We really wanted to bring color and life back in. It was a chance to express our clothing and our culture and our beading.”
The paint requires certain temperature conditions in order to set and dry properly, so painting is currently on hold. The group will return to Van Cleve Park in the spring to finish painting the statues.
Once the project is complete, Hannahville’s team and Brown hope the statues will encourage more appreciation for Native American history and artwork.
“It represents our community more,” said Leiskau. “People should learn about other cultures.”
“It brings a little sense of pride and culture back to our parks,” Brown said.
To learn more about the statues, visit Van Cleve Park and find the informational plaque at the center of the display.