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‘Protecting’ The Landing Brave

State Park Decides Fate of West Ashley Icon

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July 4, 2017
By Bill Davis | News Editor

Rob Powell has no plans to take permanently remove the Landing Brave at Charles Towne Landing state park.

Powell is the park manager at the state attraction along Old Towne Road in West Ashley. Last week, he said that the state will temporarily take down the 26-foot-tall Landing Brave oak  pole sculpture that has stood at the park for the past 40 years.

The park is the original site of European settlement here in 1670, before settlers moved near to what is now White Point Gardens on the peninsula.

Powell’s comments came after weeks of concern and voices were raised after a West Ashley business owner, Kelly Gaskins, said she was told the sculpture was to be removed permanently. “We’ve been getting it from all sides,” Powell said, marching past a metal statue of a more accurate Cassique chieftain of the Kiawah tribe on the park’s history trail.

Gaskins was told by a state parks official the sculpture would be coming down, in part, because of its lack of historical accuracy in relation to indigenous Native American Indian tribes who were the original residents of the Lowcountry.

Gaskins soon began digging, afraid an “important historical sculpture” would be removed and not shored up. Recently she attended a meeting of Native American elders, some of whom said that the removal would for them hearken to the times when their tribes lost ancestral lands and they were being forced onto reservations.

In a flurry, Gaskins created a Change.org petition to save the Landing Brave, as well as a Facebook page. On the petition page, which has attracted more than 1,130 signatures so far, Gaskins began a fully digital assault on the plan.

Included on that page were not only a brief explanation of the situation as she saw it, but it also provided links, names and phone numbers to the state parks director, and Powell’s front desk, as well as the park’s Facebook and Yelp and TripAdvisor pages on the Internet.

Danielle Gilbert posted on the park’s Facebook page “reviews” section her family’s disappointment over the plan “to remove the landing chief statue. Please honor and save this memorial to Native Americans in South Carolina.”

Gilbert is a former Charleston architect who recently moved to Akron, Ohio, the same town where the Hungarian-born sculptor of the Landing Brave grew up.

The Landing Brave sculpture was erected at the park in 1977 by artist Peter Toth, who has similar installations in place in every other state in the country and several provinces of Canada. The installations are referred to as “The Trail of the Whispering Giants.”

Toth himself returned to the park in 2005 to inspect the sculpture and ended up inserting an iron support rod into the back of it. The sculpture is about 3-4 feet around, depening on where its measured.

Anchored to a pedestal, it used to be the first face that visitors to the park saw once walking out of the parking lot. A refurbishing of the park has since moved the entrance around, and now the statue sits surrounded by an impermanent cedar fence.

Toth said last week from his studio that the park would “destroy” the sculpture if they tried to take it down, due to how he shored up its insides 12 years ago. He said he ran a steel I-beam through the center, and not just up its back, and then put in connected steel support rods throughout the inside of the sculpture.

Toth, who just erected a sculpture of a Medieval king along the Danube River in Germany last week, allowed that the indian depicted in the sculpture was not from the Lowcountry. “That is debatable,” he said, adding that the sculpture was meant to represent and honor all the native tribes who once called the entire state home.

Saying that he took some understandable “artistic liberties,” he added that his interest in accurately capturing the Native American in the sculpture didn’t “end at state lines.”

Gaskins said that the tribal elders and other Native Americans she spoke with couldn’t see how removal of the sculpture would be good for Native Americans.

Park manager Powell said that there was a process in place to reevaluate the aging sculpture, much like the one that saw the replacement of the wooden boat Adventure a little over a decade ago.

In 2004, the replica sea vessel was pulled from its watery moorings along the Ashley River, found to be rotting to a point that a new boat needed to be constructed.

“Charles Towne Landing has undergone a complete redo over the last 10 to 13 years,” said Powell. “The lifecycle of the brave has reached a point where we have to decide whether it will stay here or not.”

Termites, water damage, and the effects of “weather events” need to be assessed first, Powell said, adding that the parker’s former pavilion was a “perfect parallel” for the crisis facing the Landing Brave.

Hurricane Hugo had damaged the pavilion, one of the main draws at the park for years. Closed for several years, the pavilion was reassessed and evaluated for damage and safety and then had to be removed altogether.

Apparently, other sculpture in the “Whispering Giants” collection have had to be removed, or further refurbished, in more than a dozen different states.

Powell said the Landing Brave is coming down, probably during the park’s “offseason” this winter, the evaluation process will resume.

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