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Sculpting R.F. Pettigrew



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A new bronze monument will soon greet you as you take Phillips Avenue to Falls Park. The 15 foot tall R.F. Pettigrew statue will stand at the entrance to Falls Park honoring one of the city's first developers.

As the bronze heats up to 2,100 degrees in a fiery pit, the shell of R. F. Pettigrew is formed piece by piece. The large monument is a step closer to reality for one Sioux Falls sculptor.

"When you're watching that come together, first it's the feet, then the legs and then the coat tails all coming together. It is just so exciting I can't hardly stand it sometimes," sculptor Darwin Wolf explained.

For Darwin Wolf, this project has been ten years in the making. It started in 2003 with a smaller model on the sculpture walk downtown Sioux Falls. Then, in 2009 Wolf started work on a much larger monument.

He says he wants people to have an appreciation of where we came from and who got us here. And that's where Richard Franklin Pettigrew comes in.

"He brought in five railroads. He started the first street car, electric street car and then horse-drawn street car, and developed so many parts of Sioux Falls. He donated the land for Augustana." Wolf said.

Wolf chose the entrance to Falls Park to put his monument because Pettigrew was instrumental in industrializing the falls. He later regretted it and wrote a letter to the city pushing to preserve the area.

"The redemption he deserves is an awareness of what he really did to build this place," Wolf said.

Though sculpting a 10 foot traveling statue may seem like a task in itself.

"The hand actually attached here with the letter in place, so it all came apart," Wolf explained.
 
The next challenge is still ahead. Molds are created from about 40 sections, then cast in bronze and welded together. That process takes months and requires the skills of a foundryman like Rick Haugen.

"It's a good feeling to know that you had some part in something that's permanent. Bronze lasts forever," BronzeAge Art Casting owner Rick Haugen said.

As the permanent Pettigrew is cast, the clay still sits in its creator's garage.

"There's no reason for me to keep it, I just can't let it go," Wolf said.

Wolf's attachment to his masterpiece has left him anxious for its final unveiling.

"Seeing it in place, I don't know if I'll be thrilled or terrified because you don't really know what your work is going to look like until it's in place," Wolf said.

And ten years of work and research will soon be on display.

The Minnehaha County Historical Society is the main sponsor of the project and funding has come in through private donations.

The goal is to have the monument in place on Phillips Avenue by May 17th.
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