A locally-raised sculptor hopes her statue outside the Clark Pleasant library branch will serve as inspiration for the female leaders of tomorrow.
Kimberly McNeelan grew up in Whiteland, and remembers frequently visiting a friend’s house near where the Johnson County Public Library’s newest building sits. When the JCPL leaders contacted her a few years ago about building a permanent public art piece on the new branch’s property, she jumped at the opportunity, McNeelan said.
The sculpture, dedicated during a ceremony Sunday at the library branch, is titled “The Light Shines Through.” The piece features one woman walking on the pages of a giant book, while holding a book in her outstretched hand. There are references to six everyday women who influence literacy in Johnson County within the statute.
Paige Banos, a retired kindergarten teacher who serves on the Johnson County Public Library Foundation Board, is acknowledged with the woman’s braided bun. A four-leaf clover on the woman’s shirt is a nod to local 4-H leaders Missy Suttles and Lois Fitzpatrick. The embroidered words “Love More” are a reference to Erin Davis, who created the youth empowerment fund. The woman’s blouse is similar to one worn by McNeelan’s grandmother, Beverly McNeelan, a longtime Johnson County resident. The book in the woman’s hand, titled “The Light Shone Through,” is by Katie Basbagill, a photojournalist and Whiteland Community High School graduate who passed away in 2018 at the age of 35, McNeelan said.
“The idea of the sculpture is to honor women, of course, specifically to honor women who encouraged literacy in Johnson County,” she said. “A lot of women are naturally caretakers, encouraging people to learn and taking care of them. With the sculpture itself, I didn’t want to honor just one specific woman. We felt there are a lot of people that deserved to be honored, so I’m honoring six different women, as well as a general everyday woman.”
The sculpture, made of bronze, western red cedar, steel, concrete, plywood and paint, also contains messages of empowerment. A shirt on the statue with the label “modern sportswear,” shows the evolution of society’s view on what women can participate in. Equality through clothing is also represented through the blue jeans and sneakers the statue is wearing, showing a style that transcends eras, she said.
McNeelan, a professor at Butler University, has public installations at elementary schools in Indianapolis and Lebanon, previously had a sculpture displayed at White River State Park and has an upcoming installation outside Glendale Town Center in Indianapolis, she said.
To have one of her sculptures on permanent display near the library branch is a dream come true, McNeelan said.
“I never would have dreamed all those years jumping on a friend’s trampoline, looking out toward (U.S.) 31, there would be this awesome library branch built there and I would be asked to create a sculpture for it,” she said. “I’m very honored and I just feel very lucky that I got to create this. It’s definitely a passion project.”
Johnson County Public Library leaders long viewed public art as a way to enhance the new branch, library director Lisa Lintner said.
“Public art featuring women can be empowering for women and girls, as it provides them with positive role models and affirms their value and worth in society,” she said in a statement. “’The Light Shines Through’ sculpture celebrates all women in Johnson County who have encouraged literacy and we hope residents will connect with the sculpture or think of a woman who made a difference in their life when viewing her.”