Thursday, April 25, 2024

City invites Ken Hill foundation to place donated statues near Shanley Park

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After almost a year-and-a-half, two donated bronze statues are getting closer to finding their forever homes.

During a regularly scheduled meeting March 19, Granbury City Council extended an invitation to the Ken Hill Foundation to place both “Silent Prey” and “Black Star” in the city of Granbury near Shanley Park.

The two statues are pieces crafted by well-known Texan and Western artist Covelle Jones and were donated to the county by the Ken Hill Foundation in 2022. The statues were presented by CEO Jeff Farris, who oversaw the disbursement of the late Ken Hill’s estate.

City Manager Chris Coffman explained that the request for the location of the “Black Star” statue was submitted by the Shanley Park Association, as members were hoping to place the statue on the association’s privately owned property to launch the Shanley Sculpture Garden in the park. The “Silent Prey” statue, Coffman explained, was recommended by the Granbury Cultural Arts Commission to be placed on city property located on the north side of Granbury City Hall along the walking trail and Houston Street. The “Silent Prey” statue would also serve as the entrance to the sculpture garden.

“What we're proposing here is we're asking the council to consider taking the recommendation from the Granbury Cultural Arts Commission to place the ‘Silent Prey’ sculpture on the city property right outside of (City Hall) between it and the Moment in Time Trail,” Coffman said. “I think it's important for it to be there, and to kind of give you some ideas of why everybody's pointing in that direction is that it can be seen by vehicle and by foot traffic.”

According to Coffman, Hill was in the process of converting Comanche Peak Ranch into a historic center, where visitors could stay and learn about the history of the Comanche Indians. Unfortunately, his death in 2020 led to a delay in the project. Coffman said Hill’s goal was to have the sculpture of “Silent Prey” located somewhere in the Comanche Peak area.

Coffman then showed a picture of the “Silent Prey” art piece superimposed on grass to show the public what the statue would look like.

"It's an Indian climbing off of a figure that's attacking; that's why it's called ‘Silent Prey,’” he said.

The second sculpture, “Black Star,” is a replica of an Indian woman who lived on Comanche Peak at one time.

"Shanley Park is owned by the Shanley Art Association, and they have wanted to begin a sculpture garden on their parkland,” Coffman said. “They would like ‘Black Star’ to be the first piece of their partnering.”

After Hill’s passing, Coffman said both statues were left unattended in Jones’ shop in Bastrop — that is, until Farris donated both statues to Hood County.

While both statues were previously accepted by the Hood County Commissioners Court during the bimonthly meeting Nov. 29, 2022, the location of the ‘Black Star’ statue was not properly agreed upon, which spurred Precinct 4 Commissioner Dave Eagle to place the item back on the Aug. 8, 2023, agenda to clear up any confusion.

Although “Black Star” faced controversy with some residents calling the medicine woman a “witch,” the statue was eventually approved by the commissioners last year. Both statues were then scheduled to be placed on the northeast corner of the Hood County Courthouse lawn Sept. 8, 2023.

However, during its regularly scheduled meeting Aug. 22 last year, the Hood County Commissioners Court sparked discussion on the topic again, when it was revealed that the Texas Historical Commission had final say on whether the statues could be placed on county property.

“I put this on the agenda as a discussion only item,” Eagle said, during the meeting Aug. 22, 2023. “But this is not about the merits of the statues. I've got a grant of easement here that this county granted to the Texas Historical Commission back on Dec. 12, 2000, and this grant of easement really takes it completely out of our hands.”

Hood County Judge Ron Massingill explained that once he learned that the THC needed to be contacted for final approval, he reached out to Texas Sen. Brian Birdwell and explained the situation.

“I said what had happened, and that we've taken two votes,” Massingill said, during the September 2023 meeting. “We passed it in November of 2022, that the two statues ‘Black Star and Silent Prey’, could be put on the courthouse square lawn and then we passed it again two weeks ago. I said, ‘No one knew (that THC had final say). At least it was never brought up and I didn't know about it, but I am a lawyer and I do follow the law.’”

Birdwell then put Massingill in contact with Mark Wolfe, the executive director of the THC, where several emails were exchanged back and forth detailing the statues and their significance to the county.

After days of uncertainty, Massingill revealed Sept. 12, 2023, during the next regular meeting of the Hood County Commissioners Court, that the THC had denied the application of placing “Silent Prey” and “Black Star” on the Hood County Courthouse lawn, stating that the statues were essentially “too big.”

“For clarification, they did not deny the application based upon ‘Black Star’ being a pagan worship site,” Massingill said, during the Sept. 12 meeting. “They said it was too big and it detracted from the look of the courthouse. That's in essence what they said.”

Following the news, many residents came up to the podium to express their opinion on the final verdict from the THC, including Courtney Coates Blackman, member of the Shanley Park Board.

"When I saw on the agenda plans to rescind the donation made from the Ken Hill Foundation, I felt compelled to talk,” Blackman said in the Sept. 12 meeting of the Hood County Commissioners Court. “I believe there is an ideal location for ‘Silent Prey’ and the ‘Black Star’ in the city park behind city hall.”

At the time, Blackman explained that the Shanley Park Board was currently working on turning Shanley Park into the Shanley Sculpture Garden, similar to the Benson Sculpture Garden in Loveland, Colorado.

"I think we found the perfect spot for ‘Silent Prey’ and several options for ‘Black Star,’” Blackman said previously. “In the location that we have chosen for ‘Silent Prey,’ you would be able to see it from Houston Street, and it would be a very dramatic entrance to the city park/Shanley Sculpture Garden while still being on city property.”

Blackman explained back in September that she was unsure if the city and county could collaborate on this project, but had hoped Farris would agree to it, as “it would be a shame” for citizens and visitors of Granbury to not be able to enjoy “majestic pieces of art” from such a well-known and successful artist.

She added that Granbury and Hood County “should not pass up this extraordinary chance to acquire these remarkable works of art.”

“We should not let this pass us by as it will unlikely ever be an opportunity for us again,” Blackman had said. “I am sure Ken Hill and Covelle Jones would have wanted these pieces to stay in Granbury — we just need to find the right situation to make that happen.”

Following public comments Sept. 12, the motion was unanimously approved by the Hood County Commissioners Court to rescind the two statues to the Ken Hill Foundation in the care of Farris.

The Hood County Commissioners Court also reimbursed the Ken Hill Foundation during the same Sept. 12 meeting for the cost of both statues, totaling $5,730.

Since the statues were rescinded by the commissioners court, Granbury City Council has since been in talks with the Shanley Art Association and the Ken Hill Foundation to find a home for the two statues somewhere in the city.

“I know this has been talked about extensively over the past several months, but we were waiting to make sure that all the Is were dotted and the Ts were crossed,” Coffman said. “So, I would just encourage (the council) to consider this."

After a short discussion, Place 3 Councilman Bruce Wadley made a motion to extend an invitation to the Ken Hill Foundation to place the “Silent Prey” statue by Covell Jones on city property and communicate the invitation from the Shanley Park Association for “Black Star” to be placed on the association’s privately owned property.

The motion passed unanimously.