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 andrea.cook@rapidcityjournal.com.

(15) comments

OhitikaWi
OhitikaWi

Ohitika Wi says, I worked for Kevin in 2002-2003, he is as honest as he is nice, she just wants to drag this on, everytime I heard mention of her name, she just complained about Mr. Costner, to whomever she was visiting. sounds to me like she wants his attention again. I wonder if she hounds the people that buy any of her work. Let it go, you were paid well, and so was I, I have no complaints.

tipimakr
tipimakr

She probably hasn't sold any pieces since this commission. She is giving us artists a bad name. I made 13 miniature tipi's for the Tatanka Museum, but I have a lot of respect for Mr. Costner. It's apparent she does not. I like the 5 hour version of Dances better than the short version too! Go Kevin!

greatthinker
greatthinker

For those of you that are unfamiliar with the business of art, contracts detailing placement, display, and other aspects of public artworks are commonplace. It is usually not the same as when you buy artwork for personal use in your own home or office. Any artist about to invest 6 years of their professional career into the production of one large artwork would certainly be prudent in seeing that all details of the agreement were spelled out in a contract. Likewise, any art buyer about to spend a substantial sum on a commissioned artwork would find it in their best interest to have a solid contract as well. I'm sure the judge will examine the details and deliver justice.

Bing
Bing

He paid her and to have it built. I think she should be thankful someone paid to have "her" sculptures created. Otherwise they would have never been built in the first place. She didn't want to pay to see the sculptures herself so why would she think that many others would?

Eugene
Eugene

Costner's Tatanka is a well-run, high-class venue. It is also rather pricey--but one causes the other--high-class & well run usually do mean expensive. The displays inside are high-caliber and thought provoking. It does cost a bit more to get in--seems like she didn't like having to pay admission to see her work. Tatanka will continue to bring quality to the area, which is a nice change from all the crass stuff just down the road in Deadwood. It may not be the huge resort once hoped for, but it does provice a positive and important addition to the various tourist venues in the area. She should be glad her work is shown there and that it is protected, instead of being displayed in some free, public area where the pieces would be exposed to threats of vandalism and other security concerns.

Quevol
Quevol

“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.

Yet she wanted to break it up in 2001 so she could secure free gallery space for herself.

I think we get the picture.

Revelation
Revelation

It sounds like Costner was more than reasonable. It also sounds like she still has the rights to the statue molds, so if she wants to make more and get them placed somewhere else she can. If an artist sells a piece of art, typically they don't have any say about where it goes. If it's a painting it could be in the living room...or the bathroom....or a closet. I wouldn't think sculpture should be any different. It sounds like her feelings were hurt that they wanted her to pay for a booth when it opened. Probably that wasn't a specific decision that Kostner made (or with charging her admission). With the extra $100k she was paid she either could have not had a booth or paid for a booth---but don't hold a grudge about it.

DoTell
DoTell

AGH wrote: "Her reasoning probably stems from the fact that she wanted to make sure her hard work would get exposure."

If that was such an important issue then a person shouldn't build a center piece attraction for a resort that doesn't exist. Dunbar was first proposed in 1993, there's your sign!!!!

Deadwood Mom
Deadwood Mom

I can sympathize with 6 years of work on a piece of art, but she was very well paid for her tallent. She should have had a clue however, when she showed up for the unveiling and instead of a 5 star resort...she found a snack bar...that's closed 9 months a year. Mr. Costner's assertion that he is still willing to entertain offers to build the Dunbar makes me chuckle. "If you build it, they will come?" ya right.

Just askin
Just askin

Just sayin!

Wouldn't a better time to call an attorney have been when the original contract with Costners group was drawn up?

AGH
AGH

Her reasoning probably stems from the fact that she wanted to make sure her hard work would get exposure. The work is hardly gaining any exposure sitting in a resort that never even opened. She envisioned her art getting more public viewing and sharing it with people. Six years is a lot of time spent creating something, regardless of whether or not she was paid for her work. It was her wish to know that the pieces of work would be SEEN.

DoTell
DoTell

They've been "placed" since 2004, she needs to get over it. People can go see the Tatanka pieces at the park he created, which I would assume gets more traffic because of the Deadwood Lodge across the street. Time to look for a new cash cow, this one looks like it left the field...

SkyBlue
SkyBlue

A contract is a contract no matter what he paid. If it says that she can be involved in their placement then that is that.

ttpilot
ttpilot

I've seen it happen before where an artist is paid for their work but then tries to retain control of the piece. It's work for hire. Once its sold it belongs to the buyer. It does sound like they must have had a more elaborate contract about the Tatanka pieces, though. I suspect the whole thing will hinge on that.

DoTell
DoTell

My God, the man paid for the statues, he can throw them off a cliff if he wants to. He even paid her more than the original contract was for. Why does she feel she has the right to hound anyone to death for what someone does with her art after its been paid for? Free Free Free More More More, it gives art a bad name!

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