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Cherokee Street sculptor is his own worst critic

Cherokee Street sculptor is his own worst critic

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Cherokee Street sculptor is his own worst critic
Bill Christman stands in front of his Cherokee Indian statue at Cherokee Street and Jefferson Avenue and holds the smaller model on which it's based.

Call Bill Christman the reluctant sculptor of the towering Cherokee Indian at Cherokee Street and Jefferson Avenue.

It's not that he thinks the statue is politically incorrect. He worked closely with a Cherokee Indian group to ensure it didn't conjure up cliched images of Indians.

It's just that it's out of proportion, and, well, it just doesn't work, he says

"It's more anatomically incorrect than it was political," said the 60-year-old Christman, as he drank coffee at a table outside the Mississippi Mud Coffee House, 2101 Cherokee St.

He would prefer to be known by his other work, which can be seen at the Maya Cafe in Maplewood or the the Museum of Mirth, Mystery and Mayhem — also known as Beatnik Bob's — in the City Museum..

That doesn't mean people don't like the Cherokee Street Indian sculpture.

"It's kind of an icon of the neighborhood," said Monty Crowder, who lives above Mississippi Mud, which he manages. "It's what people identify with."

Jason Deem, president of the Cherokee Station Business Association, which generally represents Cherokee Street west of Jefferson, said few people ask him about it.

"It's more noticeable for outsiders as opposed to those of us who are accustomed to it," Deem said.

Recognition lies at the root of the statue. In the early 1980s, merchants on the street were looking for one big thing to distinguish the area.

"We hade spoken about possibly doing like a trolley-car thing," said Rick Ruzicka, manager of the Globe Discount Variety, 2700 Cherokee St., who was a member of the Cherokee Business Association at the time the decision was made. When a vote was taken, the Indian was chosen.

"It was kind of like having some type of landmark," Ruzicka said.

"It was the merchants' association that wanted to increase visibility," said Christman, who has a studio in his University City home.

Christman began with a small sculpture and then carved a 13-foot-tall Indian out of foam. Then it was covered with fiberglass and painted. With the base and feathers, the total height was 21 feet. The statue itself weights about 200 pounds.

The statue was anchored in place with steel posts driven into a below-ground concrete plug, eight feet by four feet by four feet,

"It would survive a tornado," Christman said.

No one seems to remember when the statue was dedicated. An old St. Louis Globe-Democrat clipping found by Cherokee Station Business Association Treasurer Will Liebermann bears the stamp of Oct. 2, 1985. However, Christman said it happened earlier than that.

The brief article said the sculpture was by "St. Louis artist Bill Christmas." The misspelling made it harder for the Journal to track down the sculptor. After checks with people in the local arts community, one artist suggested it was not Bill Christmas, but Bill Christman. That led the Journal to the artist.

When asked if he sculpted the Indian, Christman said, "To my everlasting mortification I was the sculptor of that."

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