This is an article I wrote for Etc. magazine back in January of 2002. Some of the material may have been disproven since I wrote the article, and some is still up for debate. I researched old Argus articles the library. The librarians were hesitant and suspicious when I asked for the papers (they had an entire file on David) Enjoy.

David’s Legacy

By Scott Ehrisman

The Statue of David downtown is a prime example of the kind of enriching public art Sioux Falls has to offer. As a visitor or someone who has recently moved to Sioux Falls you may not know the whole story about the biblical king that stands between the 10th and 11th street viaducts. Trust me, the road to Fawick Park wasn’t so smooth. Since David’s arrival in October of 1971 he has been the focus of political, cultural, religious, and economic debate. David is only one of two exact castings of Michelangelo’s original and really a priceless treasure. So why all the fuss? Well it’s a complicated story and here’s his legacy.

David first arrived in Sioux Falls in 1971 as a gift from the inventor and South Dakota native son Thomas Fawick. But it would take two years before he was dedicated. Fawick started David’s journey in Italy. It would take five years before David was introduced to Sioux Falls. Two years of it spent with negotiations with the Italian government for permission to use the original work in Florence, Italy, and three years of casting by the famous sculptor, Felix deWeldon who was commissioned by Fawick to complete the work. The value of the statue was estimated at $350,000 when David arrived on October 5, 1971 and if Fawick was alive today he may be surprised to here it is considered priceless by art constituents.

Thomas L. Fawick, is most famous for his inventions the ‘Fawick Flyer’, the first four door automobile, and the disc type tractor clutch. Fawick held nearly 200 patents for various other inventions like rubber engine mounts and tool grips. Fawick was born in Sioux Falls April 14, 1889. Fawick’s mechanical genius was established before the end of his grade school years and hence his great success and wealth. Fawick had a great appreciation for music and the arts having a large personal museum in Cleveland where he lived and developing the Fawick Violin and writing over 3000 musical compositions. He gave the gift of ‘David’ to the City of Sioux Falls in respect for the city of his birth and childhood years.

Michelangelo, most famous for painting the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, started sculpting the original David from an 18 foot marble block, starting in September 1501 and completing in May 1504. The statue was placed that same month at the entrance of Palazzo Vecchio in Florence, Italy. It took 40 men four days to move the work from the Cathedral, where Michelangelo was working on the statue, to the building entrance where it rested for 370 years. David stood in the square until 1873 when a reproduction was made for the square and the original moved into the present location, the Academy Gallery. David was completed in the same era of the ‘Mona Lisa’ and the ‘Last Supper’. The art period was referred to as the ‘High Renaissance’ and a return to classicism. Though the Italians knew exactly where the original David should be placed after his completion, residents and city government officials of Sioux Falls weren’t as sure.

As David sat in storage for two years, the debate over where to place him began. Several locations were investigated. McKennan Park’s Sunken Gardens was deWeldon’s suggestion, but the city feared vandalism. After soil tests were conducted to make sure the ground could hold up the 3 1/2 ton statue and black granite base, the area between the 10th and 11th street viaducts was selected. The walkway that was being constructed at the time along the west bank of the Sioux River between the 9th street parking ramp and the downtown post office was one of the major reasons the spot was chosen. City Commissioner Earl McCart, at that time, felt the statue would receive maximum exposure from the traffic on the viaducts and the walkways that led up to David. The issue of where to place David was only one of the delays.

After a location was chosen the wait continued while the 9-foot base was being completed in Sweden at Fawick’s expense. It seemed there was finally some progress and soon David would be on public display. But a group of religious fanatics weren’t so excited about Fawick’s gift to the city and Augustana college.

Members of the Tabernacle Baptist Church felt David’s nudity would contribute moral decay in our community and felt the statue would be public pornography. Even though it seemed city officials ignored the requests of the church and finally placed David anyway in October of 1973, nearly two years after his arrival, there was another problem. David was facing the wrong direction. After he was placed facing the river and railroad yards with his back to traffic many residents complained. The city said they purposely faced David in the that direction because he would receive more sunlight. But to this day some residents will testify it was done to appease a few who were opposed to his nudity. In a way, everyone got there requests granted. But even after his first placement the controversy continued.

My mom once told me, “It’s the thought that counts”. A saying usually only used when someone gives you something not of material value. Tom Kilian, the executive vice president of Augustana College in 1976, basically said just that when ARTnews magazine claimed our ‘David’ and ‘Moses’ (another Michelangelo reproduction Fawick gave to Augustana College in 1974) were not exact castings. ARTnews claimed making copies from the original works was outlawed since the late 19th Century, unless permission was given from the Ministry of Fine Arts in Italy. The Ministry said that no permission was given in their recent memory. It didn’t help that deWeldon changed his story and said he only occasionally monitored the work done at the foundry, Fondaria Artistica Francesco Bruni, the place where ‘David’ and ‘Moses’ were made, instead of actually supervising the production. Supposedly the owner of the foundry told ARTnews that they own their own plaster casts of the statues and made the bronze casts in six months of work on ‘David’ and ‘Moses ‘. Which would probably put the cost of David at around $12,000 in 1971, not the earlier reported value of $350,000. Tom Kilian shot back by saying ARTnews tried to demean the value of the statues by saying they were made from plaster casts, made from the original statues, instead of rubber molds. Tom said it really didn’t matter because they were still made from the originals and everyone knows that they are copies, ‘David’ being one of only two in the world. Tom went on to say that Fawick gave us the statues out of a generous heart and at great personal effort and expense. Only Mr. Fawick knew how much their value was in the art market. But it wasn’t the first time the value of ‘David’ came up, or at least the value of another David destined for Sioux Falls.

This wasn’t the first time David came to Sioux Falls, or should I say almost came. In the summer of 1929, we almost got a copy of Michelangelo’s ‘David’. John Downer Hazen, a Sioux Falls musician and art lover, died, leaving $20,000 to the city to erect three statues, each a full-size reproduction. His will asked that the statues should be ‘David’ by Michelangelo, ‘Celleoni’ by Verrocchio and a horse statue by Donatello. The city accepted the gift happily, but there was one problem, there was only enough money to erect one statue, David. The provisions of the will claimed that either two or three statues could be erected but not just one. The heirs sued saying that since there was only enough money for one statue the rules of the will were broken and they deserved the money. The matter settled out of court and the city only received $12,000 of the inheritance, and since they needed $17,000 to erect at least one statue it never happened. But it probably would of never been erected anyway. News reports during that time said that erecting David in McKennan park caused some objections from city residents because of the nudity. It would take another four decades before David graced us in all his glory, not once, but twice.

To the dismay of art lovers, David was removed from Fawick park in the fall of 1997 before cleaning up contamination from an old gasification plant. Little did the residents of Sioux Falls know that the crews weren’t just digging up Fawick Park but opening a whole new can of worms in the ongoing public art debate in Sioux Falls. When David was taken down it was assumed that after the mess was cleaned up, Fawick Park would be rebuilt and David would be returned. It didn’t quite happen that way. Fawick Park was rebuilt and landscaped but David wasn’t returned, at first, that would take three years.

Once it was noticed that David wasn’t returned to Fawick Park people started asking “Where is He?”. Everyone assumed David was stored in City Hall, later he was found in a Sioux Falls Parks and Recreation outdoor storage lot. This is when residents started to pressure the city government to place David. City council members said they were opposed to returning David to Fawick because of flooding that might occur since the park was now lower and closer to the Big Sioux River. City council members wanted to place David in several different locations throughout the city. McKennan Park, Veterans Park and Fort Sod Park, West of Fawick Park, were all locations mentioned. After almost a two year debate it came down to either placing David back in Fawick Park or in the outdoor amphitheater at the Washington Pavilion. The City Council was seriously criticized for dragging their feet on this issue. After feeling the pressure of residents to make a final decision on the matter, the council had computer renderings made of what David would look like in both locations. The council unanimously decided in May of 2000 David would be best suited to be returned to his home in Fawick Park. The council felt it would be hard to view David at the Pavilion and if they put him in the Southwest corner of Fawick Park he would probably be safe from flooding. But the controversy doesn’t end there.

It would take another five months before he returned. It seemed the city didn’t set aside enough money to return David. After more pressure from residents and phone calls to city hall the city came up with the money. Finally in October the Jans Corp. placed David back in Fawick for a price tag of $67,000. David has been back in his home since. Just how long will David stick around this time? Well we hope this time it’s permanent. But if he has to move again, that’s okay, it looks like he travels light.

3 Thoughts on “Statue of David

  1. L3wis, don’t forget the missing black marble base. It’s kind of like the the North Phillips Ave missing art, what will become of it?

  2. Missing “black marble base,” is that anything like the scrap metal slush fund controversy that the City had in the early 1980s?….

    Thanks for posting your comprehensive article. Overtime, I had forgot about a lot of the details surrounding the David statute and it was a fun and nostalgic read….

  3. peter on March 7, 2017 at 4:45 pm said:

    I posted this on Facebook, this piece really does teach the history of a statue that everyone in Sioux Falls has seen at one time or another.

    IT’s funny how clueless most of Sioux Falls is to it’s very own history. Thanku for writing this!

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