Mark Avery

Mark Avery creates a sculpture of the late Marilyn Murphy, of Sioux City, at his McCook Lake, S.D., studio on Tuesday. A nonprofit organization plans to install 14 bronze busts in downtown Sioux City to honor Siouxlanders who have made a difference. 

SIOUX CITY | Mark Avery is on a spiritual quest to find the hearts and souls of 14 Siouxlanders.

Before he begins fashioning each person’s likeness in clay, Avery needs to know more than what each one looked like.

"I want to capture their personality, emotion and spirit, as well as their face in clay," he told me Tuesday as he sculpted the head of the late community leader Marilyn Murphy.

Murphy’s bust will become part of a Diversity Sculpture Park along the Nebraska Street side of the Martin Luther King Jr. Transportation Center in downtown Sioux City. The 14 bronze busts will be mounted on pedestals along the building, from Fifth to Sixth streets. They will join the bronze bust of King that Avery also sculpted.

Avery and his wife, Terri, proposed the diversity park to community leaders. They formed a nonprofit organization, the Celebrating Community Foundation, which will seek grants and public donations to pay for the $534,000 project.

"We always tend to look nationally and world wide for leaders and mentors, and we have those folks here in our own community," foundation member Flora Lee said. "They have been the Rosa Parks or Martin Luther Kings of our community."

The foundation members created committees of community leaders in various areas to recommend names "of the unsung heroes of diversity" to be honored. Seven of the 14 have been selected, but six of those names will not be disclosed until the individuals or their families have approved of the project.

Katie Colling, executive director of Women Aware, led the committee on women, which resulted in the selection of Murphy. Her family has agreed to the project.

"In discussing who advocated for women, every bullet point we thought of had Marilyn’s name written all over it," she said.

Murphy was an advocate for equality and social justice throughout her life, especially for women, children and those who had been marginalized by society. She died May 28 at the age of 91.

A plaque will be placed on each pedestal explaining why person was selected, as well as providing a bar code that will allow people with smart phones to access additional information.

While Avery is the lead artist on the project, he emphasized other artists will be recruited to help, including on the installation of a 50-foot long and 23-foot tall arch. The arch will be narrow at its base so it can sit in the grassy area between Nebraska Street and the sidewalk. The arch will be comprised of 65 steel beams that will be welded into various curved shapes and lit at night.

He is basing his design on one of King’s quotes: " Let us realize the arc of the moral universe is long but it bends toward justice.”

The goal is to have the project completed by summer of 2014.

"I’m putting a lot of energy into this," Avery said, noting it will take an average of four to six weeks to sculpt each head. "I am having a lot of fun."

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