TUSCUMBIA — The aging American Indian chants encouragement in an effort to boost the spirits of his beloved tribe members through an incredibly difficult journey.
Local artist and sculptor Lucas Stokes revealed his rendering of that depiction Monday during a City Council meeting. It was met with great approval from those on hand.
Soon, the drawing will evolve into a permanent larger-than-life sculpture as Tuscumbia’s representation of the Singing River Sculpture. Officials still are deciding on a location for it.
The Singing River Sculpture project involves an aluminum sculpture in each of the four largest cities in the Shoals to commemorate the area’s musical heritage.
Two sculptures already are in place. In 2012, a sculpture of a guitar-strapped man singing into a microphone was unveiled at Love Plaza on Montgomery Avenue in Sheffield.
Celebrated Shoals bassist David Hood posed for the one that was unveiled in 2014 on Avalon Avenue in Muscle Shoals.
But when Tuscumbia officials started discussing a depiction for their city, the notion of a Native American came up, and the community immediately embraced it.
“In comments I’ve heard from the community, they really like the idea of a Native American sculpture and believe it would be very appropriate,” Mayor Bill Shoemaker said.
Shoemaker said a Native American connection would be fitting for several reasons.
The concept of the “singing river” originated from Native Americans because when shoals were more abundant in the Tennessee River in northwest Alabama, the wind passing along them made a musical sound.
The area became nicknamed the Shoals because of its mussel-packed reputation. The area is known for its highly successful musical connection, so the Singing River and Native American tie-ins could be fitting for a sculpture, officials said.
Also, Tuscumbia had a reputation for its humane treatment of Native Americans. Some Native Americans stayed in the city while they were being forcefully located to Oklahoma in the 1830s as part of the Indian Removal Act. Every September that movement is commemorated during the Oka Kapassa — Return to Coldwater festival in Spring Park.
Stokes, an Elgin artist, said the inspiration for his depiction, which will be called “The Encourager,” came from something he learned from Robert Perry, a Chickasaw elder and local author.
“He told us as the Native Americans were walking from here to Oklahoma, there would be someone like a medicine man or a tribal leader, usually an older gentleman, and he’d walk around the people, singing his chant and using his rattle to try to encourage them as they were making that hard journey,” Stokes said.
“I did a sketch based on a lot of that information. It’s of an older man with a rattle in hand and blanket over his shoulders, and he’s taking a step and chanting with his mouth open.”
The contract calls for the sculpture to be completed in a year, Stokes said.
“If I can get it done sooner than that, I’m going to,” he said.
About $30,000 is being raised to fund the project, and Stokes said some $18,000 has been accumulated so far.
“I told them I’d be willing to work with them and get started on it with the opportunity to raise more money for it, knowing that’s not necessarily a guarantee,” he said. “I believe the people in this area will stand behind the project and support it once they see what it’s going to be, and what it stands for.”
Raised in Toledo, Ohio, Stokes has contacts from the Shoals and moved here after graduating from the Ringling College of Art and Design in 2006.
He said he is honored to have been selected for this project.
“This is a big opportunity for me,” Stokes said. “I’ve been doing sculptures for a while, but never had the opportunity to do one on this scale and of this much importance. I’m really excited about it.”