A sculpture that left the Northeastern State University Tahlequah campus in 2002 will be returning and placed in its permanent setting in the coming months.
“Transformation Through Forgiveness” is a 15-foot bronze sculpture created by Francis Jansen as “a gesture of encouragement to consider forgiveness.” It is a replica of a marble “Eagle Man” she created out of a elongated piece of marble from a quarry in Italy.
Jansen, who was born in Holland, said she had a vision when she first saw the marble block.
“It’s like reading a book. You don’t know how it will turn out, but you keep going,” said Jansen. “You start to sculpt and you trust you’ll be shown. You must listen with a creative sense as to what wants to be born, to be shared.”
Being a self-proclaimed sentient being, Jansen said she felt a “heaviness” when she first came to the U.S., or “Turtle Island” to use a phrase from indigenous myths.
“I sensed on Turtle Island a great heaviness. It belonged to the horrible experience the indigenous have endured by Europeans,” said Jansen, who is also a therapist.
When viewing the sculpture straight on, Jansen describes the being depicted as “half a man.” The Native American man has wings covering half of him to represent the spirit, the part that “flies closer to the spiritual realm.” The eagle on his head represents the “most noble of birds” and “a trademark for forgiveness.” Unlike the original “Eagle Man,” the replica stands upon a large turtle to represent the Earth.
“It is a true depiction of forgiveness. One to help us to remember we’re being held by heaven and earth in our journey to forgiveness,” said Jansen.
The sculpture was originally scheduled to tour the nation with the goal of “petitioning forgiveness for our forefather, and then all of our fathers,” according to www.graceinstone.com. It spent one year at Southern Oregon University in Ashland before coming to Tahlequah in 2001.
Jansen said she was invited to bring the sculpture by officials at NSU and she thought it was a fitting place, with Tahlequah being the end of the Trail of Tears.
“With the name Trail of Tears, we all feel what that means. You don’t even need to know what happened to feel the sorrow and suffering,” said Jansen. “It’s man’s inhumanity to man.”
After a little over a year, the sculpture was transported to the beginning of the Trail of Tears in Cherokee, N.C., where it remained for 13 years. Jansen has heard many encouraging words from people in Cherokee, N.C., about how the statue affected them with healing. She feels that with its standing 50 yards from the tribal house, it helped make a positive imprint on the tribal government and all who visited.
Earlier this year, Jansen, who lives in Santa Barbara, Calif., was walking on the beach when she decided to move the statue back to Tahlequah.
“It suddenly came to me that it needs to go back to the end of the Trail of Tears, because it is ‘The End,’” said Jansen.
She said the meetings of the Tri-Council of the Cherokee these past few years culminated in a hopefulness that healing is happening. She also thought it was auspicious that the day they did the closing ceremony for the sculpture to leave Cherokee, was also the day the Tri-Council met at Red Clay in Tennessee, a former Cherokee capital.
“There is a bigger hand directing us all,” said Jansen.
Shortly after its departure from NSU in 2002, then-President Larry Williams wrote Jansen a thank-you letter that included the phrase “(…we hope to) find a way to bring a replica of ‘Transformation Through Forgiveness’ back to our campus permanently,” according to Ben Hardcastle, current vice president of university relations at NSU.
Arrangements have been made for the permanent donation of the sculpture to NSU, and it should be unveiled this fall. Considerations were being made to place it in the Beta Field are near where it was initially installed in 2001, but Jansen will travel to Tahlequah next week to chose the final location. It is an agreement between the parties that each have a say in the placement.
“It’s going to be, I think, a powerful addition to our campus. It has a unique and meaningful message with it,” said Jerry Cook, director of community and government relations at NSU.
Cook was mayor when “Transformation Through Forgiveness” was in Tahlequah last. He also traveled to Cherokee, N.C., last week for the removal ceremony.
“I think once everything is finalized, the campus and community, and, in fact, the region, will be impressed with this piece of art,” said Cook.
The sculpture weighs 3,000 pounds and has a certified appraised value of $250,000. An unveiling for the Tahlequah community will be planned.