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America’s largest Women’s Veteran Monument to be dedicated in Del City on Veterans Day

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By Darl DeVault
Special to Guthrie News Page

America’s first-ever inclusive Women’s Veteran Monument recognizing their sense of purpose in service will be dedicated at 11 a.m. on Veterans Day, Nov. 11 at Patriot Park, located in Del City, Okla. Surrounded by a peaceful wooded area, it is also the site for a Veterans Day ceremony each year on the east lawn of the Del City Community Center.

Del City’s Women Veteran Monument in clay before being cast in bronze at The Bronze Horse Foundry in Pawhuska, Okla. by John Free Jr. and artisans. The monument will be dedicated Nov. 11 in Patriot Park in Del City, Okla. Photo by Joel Randell.

Del City’s Women Veteran Monument in clay before being cast in bronze at The Bronze Horse Foundry in Pawhuska, Okla. by John Free Jr. and artisans. The monument will be dedicated Nov. 11 in Patriot Park in Del City, Okla. Photo by Joel Randell.

This new tribute sculpted by University of Central Oklahoma Art Education graduate Joel Randell makes up the largest bronze women’s veteran monument in America. It more than doubles the size of the park, which has been the site of several veterans’ memorials and monuments since 1995. With seven statues, it is the first to be inclusive in that it depicts women from all five branches of the U.S. Armed Forces and National Guard and Reserves.

The polished black granite monument depicts five slightly-larger-than-life uniformed women with an additional National Guard uniformed woman speaking with a little girl inquiring when she can serve. The mother and daughter are sitting at a reflecting pool prior to the mother’s departure to serve her country as Army National Guard, since they are normally the first to deploy. The centerpiece is the servicewomen in dress uniforms and caps facing outward holding hands, representing strength and unity between them to form a stronghold of Liberty around an American flag.

According to numbers recently released from the Pentagon, females make up about 14.6 percent of the military, with more women serving in the Army than any other branch. 

One Oklahoma combat veteran witnessed firsthand how a fellow female soldier made the ultimate sacrifice in combat and will never forget it.

Eleanor McDaniel, President-elect of the Lawton-Fort Sill Chapter of the Oklahoma Women’s Veteran Organization, recalled Army Spec. Lori Piestewa, who was killed in action in March 2003. Piestewa was the first Native American woman killed in action while serving in the Armed Forces. McDaniel, also a Native-American, said the new monument honors those sacrifices of all military women, whether in combat or during peacetime.

“This monument is well deserved and long overdue,” McDaniel said.  “Other communities should follow the example.  Recognition of this magnitude for our women in the military is uncommon but many extraordinary women have served and deserve that recognition. I am deeply grateful to the people of Del City and all those that made it possible to recognize and honor the service and sacrifice of all the women of the U.S. Armed Forces.”

Patriot Park Sculpture Overview: This artist rendering shows the overview of the newest addition to Del City, Okla.'s Patriot Park where a first-ever inclusive Women's Veteran Monument will be dedicated Nov. 11 on Veterans Day. Graphics by Geoff Parker, Architecture Incorporated, PC

Patriot Park Sculpture Overview: This artist rendering shows the overview of the newest addition to Del City, Okla.’s Patriot Park where a first-ever inclusive Women’s Veteran Monument will be dedicated Nov. 11 on Veterans Day. Graphics by Geoff Parker, Architecture Incorporated, PC

Luther, Okla. artist Randell, 40, undertakes his sixth major military monument in sculpting the lady veterans. The classical honorific sculptor more than doubles his patriotic figure sculpting count by depicting these seven figures. This career-defining largest project moves Randell to the forefront of sculpting contemporary patriotic themes in bronze in America.

“As a president who saw the enormous cost of war, Abraham Lincoln once said ‘A nation that does not honor its heroes will not long endure’. More than two million women heroes have served or are serving in all branches of the US Armed Forces. They deserve more attention in our public monuments to military service, especially since we have now lost 159 women in combat in Iraq and Afghanistan,” Randell said recently. “For this monument these veterans’ eyes are poised slightly above the horizon as they are vigilant, but also look to a future where there is no war.”

An all-woman committee of eight veterans played a major role in the planning after Del City voters created a budget for the monument by passing a special sales tax including the project in 2012. The project is slated at $1.5 million. Recruited by City Manager Mark Edwards, the committee spent three years planning everything about the monument except its location. The women who had attained all levels of rank and responsibility designed the overall look and carried through to the greatest detail. They endeavored intensely to make sure their service uniform depictions pass any critical dress inspection a fellow veteran might care to make of the bronze statues.

The committee is made up of SSgt Laurel “Chip” Chambers, MSgt Barbara L. Curry, Capt. Jennifer Grant, Sp4 Linda Kiselburgh, SMSgt Deborah L. McQuillar, AZCS Carolyn Mischke, SSgt Dorothy Rimbold and Lt. Col. Julie Wende.

Stressing it is a monument to those who take the oath to serve their country and not a memorial to those who have died, Del City citizens and the leaders they selected have made a strong statement that women veterans deserve honors with this monument.

This newest monument of bronze, polished black granite and flowing water honors the memory and legacy of the women who served and thus paved the way for future generations. Often they went in harm’s way, while also being the people our POWs worked with the most upon their return from captivity.

On Oct. 28, sculptor Joel Randell notices the polished granite sections make great mirrors on the walls surrounding the concrete foundation that will hold his bronze statues for dedication Veterans Day at Patriot Park in Del City, Okla. Photo by Darl DeVault.

On Oct. 28, sculptor Joel Randell notices the polished granite sections make great mirrors on the walls surrounding the concrete foundation that will hold his bronze statues for dedication Veterans Day at Patriot Park in Del City, Okla. Photo by Darl DeVault.

Many women who first served were nurses. Women dressed the wounds of battle in all our wars, such as, of the 11,000 women who served selflessly in Vietnam, 90 percent were nurses. We know they often saw the most graphic and terrible outcomes of battle. Images no one should have to see, yet it was routine. With women now serving in almost every occupational specialty, nurses first led the way. Their exemplary service prompted the expansion of women’s roles in a military where women are already in combat and completely integrated in leadership roles. Now more than two million women have left behind loved ones to serve or have served in our military.

Our women veterans’ sense of purpose of putting themselves in physical danger serving others is heroic. Their loss of social connections and community in leaving for foreign wars while putting their roles as mothers, wives and daughters on hold to voluntarily enlist is heroic. And every one of the 200,000 serving today is a volunteer, as there has never been a women’s service draft.

The architects who designed the setting for the multiple sculptures are Terry J. and Geoff Parker from Architecture Incorporated, P.C. Terry and Geoff also designed the Patriot Park repository for artifacts left at the scaled-down Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall when it travelled throughout Oklahoma.

“We saw the monument as a sequence of spaces offering a 165-foot “carved out path” with gently rising walls, respectfully posed sculptures surrounding an American flag and 84-foot peaceful water feature providing the visitor a memorable experience,” architect Terry J. Parker said. “The focal point is the five slightly larger than life- size bronze sculptures and their corresponding plaques that stand atop an elevated granite flag platform water feature where water cascades down from and flows into a channel to a small reflecting pool that is surrounded by a bench wall with the seated sculpture of mother and child.”

Randell moved to Edmond in 1993 to attend college. There his interest in becoming a sculptor found a mentor.

“I was fortunate that an award winning Oklahoma sculptor, David L. Phelps, was serving as an adjunct professor for the last two years and 10 months of my studies at UCO, where I learned from his 3-D Design and Sculpture classes,” Randell said recently.  “The timing for his teaching at UCO’s College of Fine Arts and Design couldn’t have been any better for me, as he was the first professor to teach sculpting at UCO before he returned to full-time sculpting from his studio in Oklahoma City.”

Phelps is known for strikingly alive monumental contemporary figurative artwork in bronze. He creates images that reflect the vibrancy of expansive spaces. His art challenge viewers on many levels, evoking humor, introspection, contemplation and meaningful meditation.

The seated sculpture of mother and child in clay representing the sacrifice servicewomen make being away from their families shows how a Women's Veteran Monument will look when it is dedicated Nov. 11 at Patriot Park in Del City, Okla. Photo by Joel Randell.

The seated sculpture of mother and child in clay representing the sacrifice servicewomen make being away from their families shows how a Women’s Veteran Monument will look when it is dedicated Nov. 11 at Patriot Park in Del City, Okla. Photo by Joel Randell.

After earning a degree, Randell was also afforded a traditional sculptor’s apprenticeship. This began when established sculptor Shan Gray from Edmond inquired at the school about employing a talented sculpting student to help with a large bronze sculpture of Edmond’s favorite women athlete, Shannon Miller.

Dr. Robert “Bob” Palmer, who is now teaching photography, was then teaching painting at UCO focusing on murals with Randell. He recommended Randell to Gray as an assistant sculptor and has since worked with him on many murals in Oklahoma.

“I was in my senior year after taking advantage of the opportunity to explore sculpting and finding that I excelled at it while taking every available sculpting course at UCO,” Randell said. “My professors recommended me to Gray and it was really that relationship that pointed me in the direction of a career as a professional sculptor.”

While starting his own sculpting career after graduation in 1997, Randell went on to learn more about sculpting from Gray as an assisting sculptor on a dozen more larger-than-life bronze statue projects until 2007. He also married his wife, Melissa, in 1997 and now they have three children, ages 15, 13 and 11. The family moved to an acreage in Luther several years ago so the artist could build a larger studio.

CMS Willowbrook is the construction manager for the monument project. With owner John Free Jr. supervising, The Bronze Horse Foundry in Pawhuska, Okla., is casting the bronze figures for the monument, as they have for the majority of Randell’s work in bronze. The casting is underway at the foundry in Osage County that has already made its mark nationally with Oklahoma sculptures.

Guthrie residents may recognize Randell from the 18 months he spent from 1998 through 1999 visiting Guthrie to assist the artist on the 19-foot clay version of the Shannon Miller sculpture Gray created at the Oklahoma Sports Museum.

In 2000, Randell began a career as a bas relief portraitures and seal designer which results in bronze two-dimensional portraits in which the figure projects out only a tiny bit from a flat background to form a commemorative or awards plaque. He began work with A.R.K. Ramos Foundry & Manufacturing Company Inc. in Oklahoma City as one of two contract sculptors.

Historically seen as commercial art rather than fine art, Ramos’ soon to be President David Wommer championed Randell’s talent at the level of fine art throughout the industry. A.R.K. Ramos has been casting sculptured relief emblems, portraits and pictorials, as well as plaques and seals for 70 years.This glowing endorsement from Wommer resulted in Randell’s 14-year career and many bas relief treatments of notable individuals placed at prominent institutions nationwide along with many seals and larger bas relief treatments in bronze.

On Oct. 28, sculptor Joel Randell stands as if he is one of the bronze statues that will be dedicated on Veterans Day at Patriot Park in Del City, Okla. Photo by Darl DeVault.

On Oct. 28, sculptor Joel Randell stands as if he is one of the bronze statues that will be dedicated on Veterans Day at Patriot Park in Del City, Okla. Photo by Darl DeVault.

“I’ve done hundreds of bas reliefs, from all different time periods and people of different ages and backgrounds, for a variety of customers across the country,” Randell said. “This gives me an advantage because most artists don’t have the ability to hone their skills as I do, by always striving to create exact likenesses,” Randell said. “You benefit from the feedback that comes in the process of making the bas relief more like the person it is honoring. This keeps me mindful of areas I need to work on more, such as the topography of the human face.”

By interacting with subjects and striving to capture their likeness in more than 600 bas relief works Randell has sharpened his artist’s eye for authenticity and expression. These smaller creative endeavors give him the confidence to tackle larger, more complex projects.

“Nothing shapes your resolve to provide perfection than to step away from a really big project with so many details to sharpen your skills in bronze in bas relief,” Randell said. “It serves to remind you later that even the smallest detail in that larger project deserves your utmost attention. This has worked well for me as my horizons have increased to a more national scope as a sculptor. When I return to the larger project I seem to have a renewed vigor to capture that essence important in the work.”

Randell is fulfilling the role of a classical honorific sculptor established many centuries ago. From the second to seventh century people commissioned honorific sculptures of their loved ones for courtyards and public areas. These bas reliefs Randell creates are a more contemporary form of that tribute. And that commercial vs. fine art line is blurred when considering the size and scope of some of the treatments. A bas relief Randell did in 2005 for the Oklahoma Bankers Association features a portrait twice life size.

“I wish I could have created a much bigger, three-dimensional piece from all those bas relief studies I created,” Randell said. “But I learn more about sculpting and hone my skill set from every instance of creating a likeness in bronze.”

For more information contact Geranium Carrington at (405) 670-7312 or gcarrington@cityofdelcity.org or go online to http://www.cityofdelcity.com/women-veterans-monument.

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