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Archive for Sunday, October 6, 2002

City gets to see what all the fuss was about

October 6, 2002

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Soon, Ad Astra will be on the Statehouse at an untouchable 300 feet, his bow pulled taut and proudly pointed, as if to shoot down the North Star.

But for a few hours Saturday, the 22-foot bronze Kansa Indian rested on a flat-bed truck at the Lawrence Visitor Center, 402 N. Second St. Its visit  one of the last before it is placed on the Capitol dome Monday  drew dozens of local residents who touched the cold metal, met the sculptor and expressed astonishment at the statue's tree trunk-sized legs.

For many, it was a chance to be a part of history. Cameras snapped and wallets opened for souvenirs. Several signatures were added to the bottom of the statue where dozens already surrounded a sign that read "Please do not sign the base."

John Solbach, Lawrence, was at the Visitor Center with his two sons and took their picture with the statue.

"I want them to be able to tell their grandkids that they saw the sculpture before it went on the dome," he said.

Most attended for similar reasons.

"This is a once in a lifetime thing to see," said Bill Culley, Lawrence, who was at the Visitor Center with his family. "I never thought of anything like this being on top of the Capitol building ... it's great to have something symbolize peace, friendship."

The name of the statue comes for the state's motto, "Ad Astra Per Aspera," which means "To the stars through difficulties." And despite enthusiastic feedback Saturday, difficult might be one way to describe the statue's ascension to the Capitol.

Although private funds and donations gathered on the 30-city tour paid for the actual statue, the Capitol dome had to be reinforced to support its 4,420 pounds. That cost fell to the state, and in a year of budget cuts, many Kansans had a problem with this seemingly frivolous expense until a $500,000 donation Friday virtually made the issue moot.

Signing souvenirs Saturday, Salina sculptor Richard Bergen said he had not let the controversy bother him during the 14 years he worked on the piece.

"I don't think anybody's against sculpture per se," he said to one passer-by. "They're against spending money."

Out of the hundreds of people Bergen talked to during the statue's tour, he said, only a few seemed to disapprove of the expenditure in light of the poor economy.

But, Bergen said, "if you wait for a good time to do something, you'll never do anything."

For every dissenter Bergen talked to, there were dozens amazed  or even moved  by the sculpture. Bergen said upon meeting him people would squeeze his hand or even cry.

"I don't know if it's because it's the Capitol sculpture or if I made a good piece of art," he said.

Depending on the weather  and primarily the wind  the statue will be placed atop the Capitol at 1 p.m. Monday using a 450-foot crane. A formal ceremony, in which a replica of Ad Astra will be unveiled on the ground, will take place later this fall.

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