Brief glimpses of the sensitivity of creative people surfaced when actor Kevin Costner and artist Peggy Detmers took their turns on the witness stand at the Lawrence County Courthouse Tuesday.
Detmers, who created the massive bronze sculpture on display at Costner’s “Tatanka: Story of the Bison,” outside Deadwood is suing the actor to force him to sell the 17-piece sculpture she refers to as “Lakota Bison Jump.”
Costner commissioned the work in the early 1990s with the intention of using it as a focal point for The Dunbar, a five-star multi-million-dollar resort he envisioned building on 1,000 acres on the edge of Deadwood.
Detmers spent more than six years creating the 14 bison and three mounted Native American hunters that compose the sculpture.
The resort has not materialized, but Costner said Tuesday that he still entertains offers on the project.
“I haven’t given up,” Costner said, in response to questioning from Russell Janklow. Janklow and Andrew Damgaard, both of Sioux Falls, are representing Detmers.
Costner was Janklow’s first witness of the day.
Janklow explored the 2000 contract that is at the heart of the dispute with Detmers.
Detmers insists the contract requires the sale of the sculpture if The Dunbar was not built by 2010. She testified that when she signed the agreement, Costner had guaranteed her the resort was going to be built.
The contract includes a clause requiring Costner to display the sculpture in an agreeable site within three years after the final sculpture was delivered to the mold makers. The final two pieces were sent to the mold maker in July of 2000.
Under Janklow’s questioning, Costner testified that he was willing to pay up to $1 million to create a piece for the resort. He eventually spent $1.5 million on the pieces, noting that he has an empathy with the creative process.
“It’s not a perfect science,” Costner said.
Detmers put a wholesale value of $2.2 million on the pieces Tuesday. Detmers received $350,000 for her work, $100,000 more than they had originally agreed upon, according to courtroom testimony. Costner also paid for the manufacturing of the works.
Detmers did retain some royalty rights to reproductions of the pieces.
Costner said that he continued to pay Detmers even after he had stopped other projects related to the resort.
Costner has invested over $20 million of his own money in trying to make The Dunbar a reality, according to testimony from landscape architect Patrick Wyss of Wyss Associates.
At one point during Janklow’s questioning, the actor turned to 4th Circuit Judge Randall Macy to challenge the attorney’s attitude towards him.
“I’ve never been in court before,” Costner said. “When I have an attorney sneering at me and making hand gestures, I don’t know how to respond.”
Macy responded that he hadn’t noticed any inappropriate conduct on Janklow’s part, but directed the attorney to be more congenial.
With The Dunbar project still on the drawing board in 2001, Detmers approached Costner with an offer from Hill City to display some of the sculpture in exchange for free gallery space in community.
At that time, the completed pieces were lying in the tumbleweeds outside the Lander, Wyo., foundry, Detmers said, choking back tears.
Costner began looking for appropriate sites in Deadwood.
He settled on a permanent home for the sculpture on The Dunbar property that would keep all the pieces together. He eventually spent $6 million to create the site and build a visitors center with a snack bar and museum.
“These are beautiful,” Costner said. “They deserved to be seen in a beautiful setting.”
Costner said Detmers loved the concept, but she disagreed when she took the stand.
Detmers said she was left out of the Tatanka project until it was well underway.
Dan Daly, then a reporter with The Rapid City Journal, called Detmers in the spring of 2002 to talk about Tatanka.
“Dan knew more than I did,” Detmers said. Detmers said she called Wyss and asked to be more involved in the project.
Detmers testified she had to demand that “they show me what they were doing with my sculptures.”
Wyss did consult with Detmers about the positioning of the sculptures. He also listened to her concerns about the anchoring of three pieces that are leaping off an embankment.
Wyss was adamant that Costner wanted Detmers included in the project and was dedicated to giving the sculpture a permanent home, regardless of whatever happened with The Dunbar.
Detmers and Costner met in the spring of 2003 at Tatanka to collaborate on the placement of plywood silhouettes used to determine the final placement.
Detmers and Costner were also at the site when the sculptures arrived and a crane lowered them into place.
It was an emotional moment for Detmers.
“It was the first time in nine years that I was going to see all my pieces together,” Detmers said, wiping tears from her eyes.
But, Detmers has made few return visits to the site.
She participated in the opening of Tatanka in 2004, but refused to buy a booth for the public grand opening to display her art.
“I was hurt and disgusted by that, but I showed up anyway,” Detmers said.
Detmers appeared in a couple of videos shot at the site, but was once told she would have to pay the admission fee to enter with a tour group.
Judge Macy has already ruled that the simple contract drawn up between Costner and Detmers in 2002 is not ambiguous.
His next step is to determine if Costner and Detmers agreed upon the display of the bison.
The court trial continues today with Costner being called back to the stand by his attorney James Nelson of Rapid City.
Contact Andrea Cook at 393-2445 or email@example.com.