Public art piece removed, damaged

A local artist, his family and others in the community are angered and heartbroken a sculpture created for a public art program six years ago has been removed and damaged without notice.

Trinity, a piece created by 76-year-old Terry Champ of Seymour, was on loan to the city as part of the Adopt a Spot Art project, a 2010 initiative organized by the Greater Seymour Chamber of Commerce under the direction of then-director Bill Bailey.

The Adopt a Spot Art pieces were supposed to be on display for two years and then new ones added, but only four pieces were ever commissioned and used. Bailey retired in 2014, and in the transition to a new director, the program was forgotten.

Story continues below gallery

Other pieces are still on display, including one at Brown and Walnut streets near the hospital, one at the Jackson County Learning Center and another in the green space at the corner of Walnut and Tipton streets across from Peace Lutheran Church.

The Trinity steel sculpture decorated the traffic island at Second Street and Community Drive near Seymour High School and originally was sponsored by the Community Foundation of Jackson County.

Seymour Department of Public Works recently approved a request from Seymour Community School Corp. to remove the sculpture from the property, which is a right of way owned by the city.

Dave Stark, director of facilities and grounds for the school corporation, came before the board April 14 to make the request. It was approved with a 2-0 vote. Board member Larry Sunbury was absent.

Mayor Craig Luedeman said the city did not remove the statue, however, and was waiting to hear back from the artist first so it could be decided what to do with it.

Instead, someone else loaded it up and delivered it to the Department of Public Works garage in Freeman Field, Luedeman said. It has since been transported by the city to Terry Champ’s workshop.

Champ’s daughter, Kimberly, said for her dad, the artwork had a religious meaning. She and her family were upset they weren’t given notice the sculpture was going to be removed.

“For Dad, and most Christians, I expect, it did symbolize the Holy Trinity,” Kimberly Champ said. “But Dad prides himself on creating art that inspires people to find their own meaning in it. I have spoken to others who saw it simply as flames of hope and beauty.”

Another daughter, Christi Champ Baine, who now lives in New York, said the artwork was thrown away like a piece of trash.

“We’re feeling pretty crushed, disrespected and angry on behalf of my father, who spent years planning, saving and creating this beautiful sculpture only to have it carelessly ruined,” Baine said.

The sculpture stands 9 feet tall and is covered in a pearl auto paint with two different techniques of hand-done gold leaf pattern. Baine said the paint job and gold leaf are ruined and will have to be completely stripped and redone, which will be expensive.

“It would be like if your car was keyed and you had to get a new paint job,” she said. “And the gold leaf is actual gold.”

They have submitted an estimate of $31,500 from Custom Auto Body in Seymour for repairs in the hopes the city will pay for it to be fixed.

She said they would like to display the sculpture at Cornerstone Community Church, where the family has been longtime members, and it could be shared with more people.

“We’re very proud of it,” Baine said. “He has done a lot of artwork over the years. But this is the biggest piece he has done. He wants to restore it because it’s his legacy.”

Luedeman said he plans to bring the claim to the city council to discuss at the May 9 meeting.

If the city were to pay for the damages, Luedeman said it would require them to get multiple quotes for the work.

“It has stood out in the weather all these years,” he said. “We don’t know what kind of damage it may have already had.”

But Luedeman said regardless of whose fault it is, the situation wasn’t handled properly.

“We want to work with the artist because it wasn’t right,” he said.

Baine said she has spoken directly with Luedeman and appreciates his response, even though no promises have been made.

“It seems to be a big mistake, and he is investigating it,” she said. “He has been very apologetic and sympathetic.”

Besides getting the sculpture fixed, Baine said she hopes the situation results in more support and respect for art in Seymour.

“Public art is a wonderful thing, but it has to be appreciated and taken care of by the community,” she said.

Author photo
January Rutherford is a reporter for The (Seymour) Tribune. She can be reached at jrutherford@tribtown.com or 812-523-7069.