Through three designs, one natural disaster, and 12 years, artists Michael Warrick and Aaron Hussey saw the culmination of their partnership – a sculpture commemorating the 200th anniversary of the Louisiana Purchase Survey – dedicated during a Feb. 20 ceremony.
University of Arkansas at Little Rock Professor Warrick and Hussey, a UA Little Rock alumnus and sculptor from Baton Rouge, Louisiana, created the 18-foot-high, 12-foot-wide, and 13-foot-deep sculpture made of stainless steel, cast bronze, tempered glass, and concrete.
The persistence and sense of adventure necessary to complete the sculpture, “Straight Lines in a Round World,” which lies in front of the Statehouse Convention Center in Little Rock, were inspired by Prospect Robbins and Joseph Brown, the surveyors who began the survey of the Louisiana Purchase Oct. 27, 1815, in Arkansas.
“Like any idea that enhances culture and history, it needs many hands and a strong faith to see it realized,” Warrick said. “Our mentors in this were Prospect Robbins and Joseph Brown who surveyed this country’s new expansion of the West.”
The Committee for Louisiana Purchase Survey Bicentennial Monument commissioned the work in 2001. Led by co-chairs John Gill and Sharon Priest, the committee members worked tirelessly to raise the $190,000 for the creation of the sculpture. Warrick’s design was chosen from a national competition of 30 entries.
Gill described Robbins and Brown as two “unsung American heroes” who helped settle the American West.
“Before America could become America, it became important to survey this vast land so that it could be inhabited by Americans,” Gill said. “Their job was to make a fair and equitable division of the Louisiana Purchase, all of its 2 million acres. It was a daunting task, but it was done.”
Robbins began surveying at the mouth of the Arkansas River and headed north, while Brown headed west from the mouth of the St. Francis River.
“Where they crossed was the initial point of the first survey of the American West, and from that point all of the land from Arkansas north to Canada and most of the Dakotas was surveyed from a spot in Arkansas,” Gill said.
In order to honor the starting points of the surveys, Warrick, Hussey, Gill, committee members, representatives of the City of Little Rock, and special guests christened the sculpture with water from the Arkansas and St. Francis rivers.
Little Rock Mayor John Stodala said the names Prospect and Brown might not be as well known as Lewis and Clark, who explored the western United States from 1804 to 1806, but they will be remembered, thanks to the hundreds of thousands of people who will pass the sculpture every year.
“Those names are going to be better known as we go through the course of history,” Stodola said.
In the upper right photo, Michael Warrick christens his sculpture with water from the Arkansas River. Photo by Lonnie Timmons III/UA Little Rock Communications.