Father Marquette

Barb Kelly was devastated when she was told that the Father Marquette statue located in Marquette’s Lakeside Park had been defaced with red paint.  The vandalism occurred sometime around Halloween 2012 and seemed like a bad omen.  Kelly, Vice President of the Marquette Beautification and Restoration Committee, and a leading historic preservationist, along with Emily Lewis, President of the Beautification Committee had recently completed negotiations with the City of Marquette for the Committee to assume all responsibility for the statue.   The Marquette Beautification and Restoration Committee is undertaking a monumental project, to restore and highlight the historic statue, as their 35th anniversary project.  Plans are underway for a $100,000 capital campaign that would restore the statue’s damaged bas reliefs, landscape, light and make barrier free the frequently overlooked park.

“I couldn’t believe that someone would vandalize the statue, said Kelly.  On one hand, we were telling people we wanted to improve the visibility of the statue and create a beautiful park for the community, and on the other hand, we felt that maybe the statue was too visible that it had attracted this type of damage.”

No one is really sure when the vandalism occured, but once the damage was covered by local media, Lewis’ phone rang off the hook.  “People were outraged, she said.  As difficult as it was to admit that the statue had been defaced, we realized by the calls from concerned residents that our project was one that local residents supported very strongly.  Every caller asked what they could do or how they could help.”

The saga of the statue had another unexpected turn, a fortuitous one at that.  In 2004, the Father Marquette statue was the recipient of an Angel Award from a Michigan based arts organization.  The award was granted for a much overdue cleaning of the statue.  Venus Bronze Works, Inc. of Detroit, Michigan was hired to perform the work.  At that time, the company, specializing in sculpture conservation, discussed future repair and restoration to the two bronze bas relief plaques located on the base of the statue.  These detailed scenes have been damaged by weather and vandals in the 115 years since the statue was first erected in 1897.

The Beautification Committee contacted Venus Bronze Works Chief Conservator Giorgio Gikas in early 2012 as plans for the restoration project started to take shape.  It was his plan to visit Marquette and remove the plaques.  They would then be taken to Detroit for repairs and restoration.  Unfortunately, in a stroke of luck, the weather did not allow for this work to be done.  Gikas said he would return at a later date to retrieve the plaques.

Once the vandalism was discovered, a call once again went out to Gikas for guidance.  It was determined that the previously aborted visit would be scheduled immediately and would be combined with an emergency removal of the red paint.  Luckily, the paint was removed without difficulty due to the cleaning and sealing of the statue that was completed in 2004.  The Angel Award was a true blessing for the statue.

The Marquette Beautification and Restoration Committee was founded in 1978 as an activity related to the State of Michigan Sesquicentennial.  As part of the State-wide celebration, communities were encouraged to highlight the history of their community and undertake historical restoration projects.  Al Raymond accepted that challenge, and with like-minded community members founded the Marquette Beautification and Restoration Committee.  The organization’s first project was a spring clean-up, an annual project still being conducted today.  In addition, they worked to build an awareness and appreciation of the historic buildings and landmarks in the Marquette area.

The goals of the Marquette Beautification and Restoration Committee or MBRC for short are

To encourage each individual citizen to maintain and beautify his or her property and keep Marquette clean.

To inspire citizens, businesses and organizations to beautify Marquette by education, awards and recognition.

To promote stewardship, education, maintenance and appropriate restoration of historic buildings and landmarks.

Meetings of the group are held on the second and fourth Thursday of each month at the Landmark Inn Sky Room from 11:45 a.m. to 1:00 p.m.  A buffet lunch of soup, salad, bread and dessert is served.  Membership is open to anyone interested in improving the Marquette area.  “People seem to think that MBRC membership is an exclusive club, says Kelly.  In reality, we welcome anyone who shares our goals.  They can be of any age and do not have to live in the City of Marquette.  We have many members who are seasonal residents and join us during the summer months.  Anyone can attend a meeting, you don’t need to be a member, and reservations for meetings are not required.”

The MBRC has a website where their projects are detailed and a schedule for meeting programs is listed.  www.mqtbeautification.org is the website of the organization.  For those interested in formally joining the group, membership dues are $25 per year.

The group is responsible for Petunia Pandemonium; Marquette’s largest adopt a park where members and volunteers plant flowers for almost one mile along U.S. highway 41 South.  They also oversee Roundabout Razzmatazz and Daffodil Delerium-planting projects at the Front Street and U.S. 41 bypass.  They also sponsor the Welcome Garden on Washington Street; hold an annual Garden Extravaganza Conference and summer garden tour.

In August 2012, the City of Marquette entered into a special one-year agreement to allow the MBRC to take control of Lakeside Park and the Father Marquette statue.  As part of this agreement, the Committee assumed all responsibility for the park and statue.  Luckily, they purchased insurance that would provide coverage for the statue during the year.  This insurance provided funding to remove all of the red paint from the statue.  In addition, the organization and concerned supporters of the statue have offered a reward should the perpetrators of the vandalism be identified and convicted for the crime.

The Father Marquette statue in Lakeside Park is one of three such statues created by sculptor Gaetano Trentanove.  The original statue was commissioned by the State of Wisconsin, in 1894, for Statuary Hall located in the U.S. Capitol in Washington D.C.  Sculpted of white Italian marble, the statue was beset by controversy and was not installed for several years due to thinly veiled anti-Catholic sentiments.  Finally, in 1896, the statue was placed at the U.S. Capitol after much political maneuvering.

The Wisconsin statue was the prototype for two bronze sculptures that would be created by sculptor Trentanove, cast in Florence, Italy and installed in Michigan.  The first bronze statue was planned for Mackinac Island in 1878, but was bitterly opposed for many reasons.  The first issue was placement of the statue.  The Marquette Monument Association worked for over 20 years to find a suitable location and secure funding for the Island’s statue, finally placed in 1907.  The statue stands in the Old Fort Garden below Fort Mackinac.  This statue may never have been erected if it were not for the leadership of Peter White.

White was instrumental in the fundraising efforts for the second statue, the one now standing in Lakeside Park.  Initial planning for the statue began in 1894, as controversy over the Wisconsin statue flared.  Alfred E. Archambeau, a prominent French Canadian businessman in Marquette served as President of the local Catholic lay organization St. Jean de Baptiste Society.  Archambeau realized that it was only fitting that a statue of the Jesuit priest for whom the City of Marquette was named should grace a new park being planned to surround the city’s waterworks located on the Lake Superior shore.  He met with other local dignitaries, including Peter White to launch the idea.

A statue committee was formed by the St. Jean Society and included White and others as members of a special advisory board.  The group contacted sculptor Trentanove, and asked if he would duplicate the Wisconsin sculpture in bronze.  Trentanove quickly agreed to visit Marquette in 1895 to meet with White and other leaders.  He was enthusiastic about the project and set a price of $6,000 for the work of art.  He designed a native sandstone pedestal for the statue.  Along two sides of the base he would add bronze bas reliefs detailing Father Marquette’s explorations and ministry.  These two plaques would set the Marquette statue apart from the Wisconsin statue on display in Washington, D.C.

The Marquette statue was initially placed at the foot of East Ridge Street, near the Marquette Waterworks building and Lighthouse Point.  The statue was unveiled, with much ceremony, on July 15, 1897.  A celebration, including a parade, ceremony, grand ball and reception was held.  The Father Marquette statue was a source of pride for the community, but its location was controversial.  The controversy lasted until 1913, when the Mayor and City Council approved the relocation of the statue to Lakeside Park.  The claim was made that the statue added an impressive welcome to City residents and tourists alike as they entered the city.

The fact that the Father Marquette statue has stood in Lakeside Park for the last 100 years is a fact not lost on the Marquette Beautification and Restoration Committee.  They plan to once again celebrate Lakeside Park and the Father Marquette statue on the 100th anniversary during the month of July 2013.  Kelly hopes that local residents and school children will learn about Jacques Marquette.  “He was a remarkable man.  In addition to his missionary role, he was an explorer and cartographer, he was fluent in six languages and documented what he saw as he traveled in this area during the 1600’s”, she says. A community-wide celebration will be held to include a documentary of the life of Marquette, a play based on his life, tours, lectures, movies and a recreation of the statue dedication.

Of course the centerpiece of this celebration will be the improvements to Lakeside Park and restoration of the two bas relief plaques on the sandstone base of the statue.

The first plaque was designed to depict Father Marquette in a canoe as he landed on Presque Isle.  He is seated in the center of a birch bark canoe paddled by two other men.  The rugged shoreline and thick forest evoke a sense of exploration in the wilderness.  This relief has not sustained as much damage as the other, but it needs repairs made to the arm and paddle of the paddler seated in the rear of the canoe.

The second relief shows Father Marquette with a crucifix raised in his hand as he meets a group of Native Americans.  During one of his Marquette visits Trentavove sketched members of the local Ojibwa tribe and used their likenesses in this plaque.  Today, close examination of the plaque reveals that Father Marquette’s head, hand and the crucifix are missing.  Hands and parts of arms are missing from one of the Native Americans while another has lost his extended arm.

In fall 2012, as Venus Bronze Works was removing the red paint from the statue, it was determined that removing the reliefs for repair might damage the plaques more than restoring them in place.  Castings of the plaques have been taken and replacement parts will be fabricated in order to restore the statue.  The restoration will take place in Marquette with the plaques still intact.

In addition to restoration and cleaning of the statue, MBRC plans for Lakeside Park include providing access without the use of stairs, currently the statue cannot be reached without climbing stairs.  The rocky and steep terrain of the park will also be modified so it is barrier free.  The park is not easily traversed, even in good weather.  The paths around the park, made out of stone inset into the ground are dangerous and almost inaccessible during the winter months.  MBRC plans to landscape the park and provide accessible routes around the park and statue.  Improved lighting will be installed in the park to illuminate the statue during evening hours.  This lighting will be designed to focus on the statue and will not cause light pollution in the area.  If the capital campaign goal of $100,000 is reached, a fund will be established to maintain the park and provide future cleaning, and if needed restoration, of the statue.

Plans for the centennial celebration of the Father Marquette statue and the renovations to Lakeside Park are being formulated by a sub-committee of the Marquette Beautification and Restoration Committee.  Fund raising has already started for the project.  Donations can be sent to the Marquette Beautification and Restoration Committee at P.O. Box 334, Marquette, MI 49855.  Additional information can be obtained from Emily Lewis at pres@marquettebeautification.org or Kelly at vp@marquettebeautification.org.


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