Trail of Governors 2019 - Governor Dennis Daugaard


The latest edition of the Trail of Governors sculptures was unveiled June 14 in the Rotunda of the Capitol in Pierre. This year, I had the privilege of sculpting the portrait of Dennis Daugaard, the 32nd Governor of South Dakota. I portrayed him making the sign for “I love you,” in American Sign Language. My comments introducing the sculpture follow.

This sign means, I love you, in ASL. As the child of deaf parents, it was probably one of the first words Dennis Daugaard “heard” or learned.

To acknowledge that aspect of his life was something that the governor and his family wanted to do in this sculpture.

I liked the idea too, but thinking about the work, in the context of a bronze figure standing alone along a sidewalk in Pierre, making a hand gesture that most people would not understand, seemed like it might be a little strange.

Other references that we considered seemed more plausible to me. He could be holding a shovel to represent work that was done fighting the flooding along the Missouri in the early part of his administration and also to commemorate the more than 500 trees planted on the Capitol grounds.

The governor is proud of the fact that he was a good steward with the peoples money. That he was frugal. Ok, That he was a penny pincher! That was easy enough to work into the concept. There is a rumor going around that I have incorporated the first penny that the Governor ever made into the sculpture, but it’s not true. He wouldn’t let me have that one.

The other thing that I surely wanted to make central to the work was his smile. The warmth and optimism of his nature comes through so readily in his smile.

But still, there was that Sign. I had my sons model the pose for me. They’re not as tall, but about right for lankiness. I took pictures of them -- with the shovel and with the penny. Making the sign and not making the sign.

The sign -- it just looked to me like they were doing some kind of gang thing.

So I decided to forego the sign and just go with the shovel and the penny and the smile.

I went to work sculpting the head, the likeness, first and got it pretty well along. The governor looked pretty happy. Then I roughed in the figure. Got his stance, had both hands up where he would be holding the shovel, Then it was time to try the head up on the shoulders. When I did that, I started to hear it, the governors voice Do the sign, it’ll be ok! Something about his smiling face made it work for me, made me believe.

We installed the piece later that same day on the East side of Capitol Lake. We will get back to Pierre soon to try to get some better photos with morning light.

Chris Classen and the City of Pierre crew installing with me.  Trail of Governors sachem Leroy Foster supervising.

Chris Classen and the City of Pierre crew installing with me. Trail of Governors sachem Leroy Foster supervising.

Jim MaherComment