When Barack Obama was running for president in 2008, he made a brief campaign stop in downtown Rapid City. Now, he’s here to stay. A life-size bronze statue of the United States' 44th president will be unveiled to the public Saturday.
Obama’s sculpture was created by Rapid City artist, musician and writer James Van Nuys. The statue's unveiling ceremony begins at 12:01 p.m. at the Elks Theatre in downtown Rapid City.
Ellsworth Air Force Base’s color guard will open the ceremony, followed by a selection of patriotic music curated by Van Nuys, who also will play some of the music, accompanied by singer/songwriter and recording artist Randy McAllister of Rapid City.
After the ceremony a reception for the public will be held at The Garage, a collaborative co-working space at 402 St. Joseph St. The Obama statue will be installed Monday near The Garage as part of The City of Presidents project.
Van Nuys has previously sculpted the statues of Millard Fillmore, Andrew Johnson and Franklin Pierce, a trio of 19th Century presidents whose faces are not easily recognized by most Americans.
Sculpting Obama, whose photo is on a multitude of sites online, posed a different challenge.
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“You’ve got millions of photos you can look at for modern presidents,” Van Nuys said. “You can get views of every angle of their face, which is helpful if you’re the sculptor, but the likeness has to be better. People know what (Obama) looks like.
“You have to make something that looks good from 360 angles, and you want to make a piece that looks nice and is interesting from every view somebody would look at it from. The gesture and expression has to represent the person,” Van Nuys said.
From concept to completion, the Obama statue was about two years in the making. The final design required the approval of The City of Presidents board of directors, but specific details about the statue are a closely held secret until the unveiling.
Board member Dallerie Davis would reveal only that the statue contains a surprise. Van Nuys simply calls it a positive, feel-good piece. The City of Presidents project was and is a creative venture to increase foot traffic and visitors in downtown Rapid City.
“I try to remind people this is history. It’s not politics; we have nothing to do with politics. We have everything to do with history,” Davis said.
The statues are installed on corners of Main and St. Joseph streets in the downtown Rapid City area. The City of Presidents is a privately funded project that has raised more than $2.5 million to pay for the statues. According to a news release from The City of Presidents, the program will continue indefinitely, adding a statue to commemorate each president.