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Issue of October 22, 2014
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Robert (Bob) Bartley, left, talks with artist David Kocka in his foundry near Laconia about a proposed life-size bronze statue of John Shields, a member of the Lewis and Clark expedition team. With them is a small-scale model of Shields that Kocka had made a while back. Photo by Jo Ann Spieth-Saylor

Project to immortalize Boone's companion


July 30, 2014 | 09:46 AM

At age 34, John Shields was the oldest man to join the Lewis and Clark expedition in 1803.

Despite a captain's order not to hire wed men, Shields, a married man, was recruited as blacksmith/gunsmith and it is recorded that he proved essential to the expedition's success.

After the expedition, Shields spent time trapping in Missouri alongside famed Daniel Boone, to whom he was related, and then with Boone's younger brother, Squire Boone, in Indiana before Shields' death in 1809 in Harrison County. His body is buried at Little Flock Cemetery in southern Harrison County.

In May, South Central Elementary art teacher Allison Keenan took a group of 50 third-graders to Botegga Studio and Foundry near Laconia to learn about the process of casting bronze statues.

There, an 18-inch bronze likeness of Shields will be made then placed in South Central Elementary School at about the beginning of 2015 by Laconia sculptor David Kocka.

Kocka already had a design to commemorate this piece of Harrison County history through a life-size sculpture of Shields he hoped to place in Corydon's town square when a grant requesting a smaller version came his way.

"I got contacted by the school, and they wanted me to do a sculpture and (have the kids) come and visit the studio," he said. "And I said OK, but I didn't want to do a bulldog as a mascot. I suggested that we do (Shields) as an educational piece since right down the road is Shields' grave."

Nissa Ellett, principal at Heth-Washington Elementary School, wrote the grant which asked for the statue for South Central and four sculptures from Zimmerman Art Glass, one each for Heth-Washington, New Middletown, Corydon Intermediate and Corydon Elementary schools, and included field trips to Kocka's studio and the Zimmerman Art Glass factory.

"Basically, we received $5,000 from the Indiana Arts Council; Harrison County Community Foundation matched funds," Ellett said. "The students have enjoyed learning about the artists, history and culture of the art forms in our local communities. We are excited to see the final projects."

Keenan, who also teaches art at Heth-Washington Elementary and New Middleton Elementary, and Brett Owens, the art teacher for Corydon Elementary and Corydon Intermediate, coordinated both of the trips to Kocka's foundry and studio and Zimmerman's.

The original idea for the sculpture came about after Kocka unveiled a bronze statue of Squire Boone at Old Goshen Cemetery in 2003.

"In the process, we were doing some reflection on people from the county and that's basically where it came from," Kocka said. "Then my neighbor, my associate that works with me, said that John Shields is buried right across the road here. So we went and looked that up and thought we should go ahead and follow up on that."

Kocka and Harrison County historian Robert (Bob) Bartley said they still hope to receive funding for a life-size version of Shields.

"We originally wanted to have the statue completed to celebrate the bicentennial of the Lewis and Clark expedition," Bartley said, "but other things got in the way like money."

The two men said they hope to have the statue completed by June 1 of 2016, in time for Indiana's bicentennial, but, to do so, they would need funding by October.

"The statue will take a year to mold, cast, polish and assemble," Bartley said.

Presently, Bartley, a member of the Historical Society of Harrison County, also is looking for funding to purchase the old Branham Tavern in Corydon, which was built by Gen. William Henry Harrison, to preserve another piece of Harrison County history.

Kocka said he thinks the Shields statue will bring enlightenment of Harrison County history to South Central.

"I hope (it brings) an awareness to the fact that John Shields is from the area, he's just right down the road, a stone's throw away from the school," he said, "and something that people can appreciate as part of our town's history.

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Corydon Democrat, 301 N. Capitol Ave., Corydon, IN 47112 • 1-812-738-2211 • email