Canku Ota

(Many Paths)

An Online Newsletter Celebrating Native America

December 16, 2000 - Issue 25


Crowning Work

Artist-senator prepares his statue of an American Indian to stand atop Oklahoma's new Capitol dome

by Arnold Hamilton of The Dallas Morning News


OKLAHOMA CITY As a professional artist, state Senator. Enoch Kelly Haney has sketched, painted and sculpted most of his life. He's shown his work on three continents. A full-blood Seminole-Creek, he even carries the title Master Artist of the Five Civilized Tribes.

Nothing, though, could prepare him fully for his latest project: enlarging his 19-inch-tall model of an Indian warrior into a 17-foot-tall, 4- to 5½-ton bronze statute that will crown Oklahoma's new Capitol dome in 2002.

"I have not done a project of this magnitude before," Mr. Haney said, adding with a smile, "Of course, not too many people have."

A panel of Oklahoma art experts recently selected Mr. Haney's sculpture to appear on the soon-to-be-erected, 155-foot-tall dome that will complete the Oklahoma Capitol nearly 85 years after the limestone building opened.

The $20 million, 80-foot-diameter dome will be the cornerstone of Oklahoma's centennial celebration on Nov. 16, 2007. The dome's construction is set to begin next spring and be completed by statehood day 2002.

State leaders selected the sculpture of a generic, American Indian male not a specific person as the most appropriate symbol to top the Capitol dome in a state that began as Indian Territory and has the nation's second largest American Indian population. Recent census estimates show more than 280,000 Oklahoma Indians in 37 federally recognized tribes, second only to California.

The concept of the sculpture also seemed appropriate, state officials said, because of the statue's proximity to another centennial project a 300-foot-long, 44-piece bronze monument in Oklahoma City that will depict the Land Run of 1889 that opened the territory to white settlement.

"When we started looking at what might be atop the dome of the state Capitol, it seemed like a natural balance to have it as a Native American," said Betty Price, executive director of the Oklahoma Arts Council.

Mr. Haney, 60, won a competition that began last summer with 22 artists submitting portfolios. Six finalists then prepared clay models, identified only by number in an effort to ensure the selection was based on design, not the artist.

"I think it still hasn't really sunk in, the full impact of it," said Mr. Haney. "The artists that I competed with are extremely talented artists and have done many fine works as well.

"I don't know ultimately why it was selected ... but I'm pleased with two things. First, it was a blind competition there was no name on the sculpture. And secondly, the choice was unanimous."

A Norman, Okla., foundry, The Crucible, is casting the $300,000 bronze statue. Mr. Haney waived the $50,000 artist's commission, he said, as his family's gift to the state and its centennial celebration.

For Mr. Haney, the sculpture is "almost like the conclusion of 60 years of both education and experience."

"The symbolism of this is wonderful," he said. "Slowly there has been a recognition of tribal sovereignty in Oklahoma and its contributions to Oklahoma."

Born in Seminole, Okla., and raised in what he describes as a traditional Indian home, the soft-spoken Mr. Haney said he still attends the tiny American Indian church of his youth. He still goes to the tribal ceremonial grounds. He still sings the native songs.

His hair is pulled back in a ponytail. His Capitol office is adorned with his paintings. He operates a gallery of his American Indian artwork in his hometown.

"Art is always close to me," he said. "I believe this about my life: I don't have a choice about being an artist. I just am. Art is like breathing. I don't have a choice about breathing. I don't have a choice about art. I just do it. It's part of who I am."

So, it seems, is politics. His grandfather, Willie Haney, was the Seminole chief in the 1940s. His uncle, Jerry Haney, is the current tribal leader. Enoch Kelly Haney has spent 20 years in the Oklahoma House and Senate and is chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee.

"I did not run for public office to prove a point," the Democrat said. "I did not run because I was Indian. I didn't run to prove an Indian could do it. I ran because I thought I could do a better job than the other guy that was there at the time."

Mr. Haney, inspired by the works of Michelangelo, taught himself to sculpt about 10 years ago. Now he spends several hours each week at the Norman foundry, he said, helping shape a giant version of his work, which is as yet unnamed.

"I see it as having many meanings," he said, "so it's going to be awfully hard to find an appropriate title that consumes all of these thoughts that I have about creating it."

Mr. Haney's work also is rife with American Indian symbolism.

The warrior's shield, he said, is symbolic of protection. It is round to reflect a basic theological and philosophical tenet of native people known as "the wheel of life or the circle of life or the medicine wheel." And it is decorated with four feathers on the bottom, recognizing the sacredness of the number four to most native tribes the four seasons, the four directions, the four stages of life from birth to death.

Finally, the warrior's lance slices through his leggings into the ground, Mr. Haney said.

"There is a story about native warriors ... who when faced with insurmountable odds would simply get off their horses and tie themselves or stake themselves to the ground," he said. "So when the enemy came, it was like, 'This is where I stand. I go no further.'

"I thought it was symbolic not just of native people, but symbolic of Oklahoma" especially in the aftermath of the 1995 truck bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building that left 168 dead and the May 3, 1999, tornado outbreak that killed 44 people.

"Oklahomans pulled together," he said. "Rich and poor. Color didn't make a difference. Status didn't make a difference. We put aside those differences to try to help heal ourselves. And we continue to stand here. We stay here. To me, that's significant. That's Oklahoma."

Artwork by Enoch Kelly Haney

Oklahoma Senate-Haney Bio



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