'NEOLIN' HONORS LENAPE TRADITION: BISON-TENNIAL PROJECT ENRICHES PUBLIC ART COLLECTION
Muncie’s storied collection of public art expanded in October with the addition of a colorful fiberglass bison decorated in the Lenape Indian tradition. Named Neolin—the Lenape word for “enlightened one”—the 5’ x 8’ bison is part of an ambitious initiative that commemorated Indiana’s 200th anniversary.
The project was conceived by the Indiana Association of United Ways in partnership with Indiana’s Bicentennial Commission. All 92 of the state’s counties had the opportunity to purchase, decorate and display multiple bison as tributes to the past. To date, more than 130 bison replicas now dot the Hoosier landscape. With support from a Community Foundation grant, one of them is situated on the grounds of Tuhey Park where Wheeling Avenue and White River Boulevard intersect. Neolin serves to welcome visitors to downtown Muncie.
“It’s a fitting location because you can see the bison from the road as you drive past the park,” says Jenni Marsh, president and chief executive officer of United Way of Delaware County. “The beautiful grasses on the property suggest a natural habitat. It’s also close to the bend in the river where the Lenape once settled.”
To oversee the local project, Marsh recruited a committee that solicited design proposals and selected a winner. The competition came down to two exemplary submissions with Denise King’s Lenape concept emerging as winner. “Denise had done significant research on the history of Delaware County and specifically the Native American influence,” explains Sherri Contos, executive director of Muncie Arts and Culture Council and a member of the committee. “She incorporated Lenape beadwork designs that were distinctively unique to Delaware County.”
Contos helped locate a temporary studio on South Walnut Street where passersby could view the project as it took shape over three and a half months. “The storefront had a large picture window,” says King. “I also left the door open for people to stop by, take selfies, ask about Lenape and talk while I was painting. It was a great way to connect with the public.”
In an effort to engage students in the project, the committee launched a name-the-bison competition and opened it to fourth graders throughout the county. More than 300 entries poured in. The winning entry was announced at a celebration in Muncie Fieldhouse where the bison was unveiled to an audience of 1,000 students. “The kids were able to examine the bison up close and watch as the Bicentennial Relay runner circled around it,” recalls King.
Before Neolin assumed its permanent place at Tuhey Park, King prepared it to withstand changes in weather. A local auto body shop applied a hard shell coat that will fortify it against freezing temperatures in the winter and ensure colors will not fade in the summer. As an added precaution, King covered the acrylic paint with a solution that will ease the task of removing graffiti. “The greatest danger is people wanting to climb on top of it,” she says.
Future plans call for the addition of an interpretive sign that will explain the design and the procedure that moved it from rough sketch to final design. Although the bison will not have the longevity of public art such as Appeal to the Great Spirit, installed in 1908, or Ball State’s Beneficence, dedicated in 1937, its fiberglass body should last at least 30 years. Like other examples of public art, it tells a story, invites conversation and ignites imagination.
“Not all kids have access to a museum,” says King. “Public art is important because it’s so accessible. By placing art throughout the community, it becomes approachable. It engages people, builds civic pride and makes a place very special.”