A University of Arkansas at Little Rock art professor and UA Little Rock alumnus have created a sculpture commemorating the 200th anniversary of the Louisiana Purchase Survey.
The sculpture, “Straight Lines on a Round World,” lies in front of the Statehouse Convention Center in downtown Little Rock. The sculpture will be dedicated during a ceremony at 10 a.m. Monday, Feb. 20, at the atrium at the convention center.
It is the culmination of a partnership between UA Little Rock Professor Michael Warrick and Aaron Hussey, a UA Little Rock alumnus and sculptor from Baton Rouge, Louisiana, that is many years in the making.
The sculpture is 18 feet high, 12 feet wide, and 13 feet deep. It is made of stainless steel, cast bronze, tempered glass, and concrete and has four main elements that have a special representation of the Louisiana Purchase Survey. The sculpture’s main feature is a compass face with an etching of the Louisiana Purchase.
Behind the compass face lies a dome with patterns representing latitude and longitude lines. The sculpture’s base represents the Earth. The 5-foot long cast bronze plumb bob represents an important builders’ tool that has been used for more than 4,000 years. The final component simulates the brass leg of a survey tripod and is used to support the sculpture’s compass.
“We are both interested in history and creating public art that commemorates history,” Warrick said.
Many Americans are familiar with the Lewis and Clark Expedition that explored the western United States from 1804 to 1806. However, Hussey said he was interested in promoting the story of the lesser known survey that began in Arkansas.
“There was the more famous Lewis and Clark Expedition, but most people don’t even know there was more than one survey of the Louisiana Purchase,” said Hussey, who earned a master’s degree in art from UA Little Rock in 1998.
The Louisiana Purchase Survey sculpture is a gift to the city commissioned by the Committee for Louisiana Purchase Survey Bicentennial Monument, headed by John Gill and Sharon Priest. The committee has raised money for the project the past 12 years.
Third time’s a charm
For Warrick and Hussey, the third time really was the charm that allowed them to create a sculpture they have been trying to make for more than a decade. Calls for sculpture proposals were first sent out in 2004.
Warrick and Hussey entered and were named semifinalists in 2005, but the scope of the project changed. When a second call for proposals was sent out in 2007, the duo won the option to create the sculpture.
However, the project was postponed until the committee raised the $190,000 needed to pay for the sculpture. Warrick and Hussey began work on the sculpture in 2015.
In August 2016, Hussey’s work on the sculpture was delayed due to the historic flooding in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, where the artist lives and works. Hussey’s home was damaged by the flood waters, and his house is still under repairs.
Through the years, the project changed in size and scope. Originally, the sculpture was meant to be “two surveyors in cast bronze and cast concrete surveying with a bird overlooking their work,” Warrick said.
The cast bronze figures would represent Prospect Robbins and Joseph Brown, the two surveyors President James Madison commissioned to conduct the survey of the lands west of the Mississippi River. The survey began Oct. 27, 1815, in Arkansas.