Etched in granite: The course of the Wabash River running between Terre Haute and the Wabashiki wetlands comprises Dallas, Texas, artist Brad Goldberg’s sculpture to be placed between the Vigo County Courthouse and Terre Haute City Hall. Illustration courtesy of Art Spaces
Etched in granite: The course of the Wabash River running between Terre Haute and the Wabashiki wetlands comprises Dallas, Texas, artist Brad Goldberg’s sculpture to be placed between the Vigo County Courthouse and Terre Haute City Hall. Illustration courtesy of Art Spaces
An anxious young woman, awaiting a custody hearing, will sit on a bench outside the Vigo County Courthouse in 2121 and gaze at the water flowing through Brad Goldberg’s sculpture.

His granite depiction of the Wabash River might calm her nerves — a century after Goldberg’s art piece was placed at that site.

“It’ll easily last that amount of time,” the Texas artist said Tuesday.

After all, his new sculpture will be positioned between two venerable stone creations — the 133-year-old courthouse and Terre Haute City Hall, built in 1937. The artwork will be the centerpiece of the Phase 1 of the Turn to the River project, which will physically connect Wabash Avenue and the Wabash River. The project’s path will bisect the city and county government campus, home of City Hall and the courthouse. Construction on the government campus makeover begins next week.

It’s a $1.2-million initial phase, funding by several public and private entities and donors, and overseen by Wabash Valley Art Spaces and the city.

“The space and sculpture I am doing is the result of so much hard work, by so many people who have envisioned turning the city back toward the river,” Goldberg said.

His yet-unnamed sculpture replicates the river’s winding path with water running through a granite overview of the Wabash and its banks.

Granite benches, and other benches, will surround the sculpture and the courtyard, accompanied by power stations for digital devices, new walkways, trees and landscaping. The beautification should lead more of the nearly 200 city and county employees to use the space to eat lunch, converse or take breaks.

For visitors, trips to the courthouse or City Hall are often less than festive moments, such as trials and resolving property disputes and settling traffic violations. When Goldberg visited the Terre Haute site to gather ideas for his sculpture, he toured the government campus and sensed its “foreboding” feel. He’s dealt with government buildings elsewhere that also stir feelings of fear and apprehension.

“People tend to get kind of stressed when they go to the courthouse or City Hall. The mayor said that to me,” Goldberg explained, referring to Terre Haute’s Duke Bennett.

Goldberg also detected much potential to change that atmosphere. And the river — a few hundred yards away — provided the source of calm that he wanted.

“I was really taken by this sinuous river crossing through the landscape,” he said, “and I knew what I wanted to do.”

Visitors will see water streaming through the stone-etched riverfront throughout the year, except for the winter months.

“I hope it eases people’s tensions,” Goldberg said. He calls it a “quiet piece,” which his art tends to be.

“As Brad says, it’s a quiet piece,” added Mary Kramer, the executive director who’s shepherded the Turn to the River project for nearly a decade. “But one of the things he did was to go into each of the buildings [on the government campus] and look out of the windows, and he felt it would be important to keep that sweeping view of the architecture.”

The 1976-era, nonfunctional fountain currently standing between City Hall and the courthouse slightly obscures the view of the buildings, both of which are on the National Register of Historic Places.

Goldberg’s sculpture diverts from one architectural element. It’s being made from Minnesota granite, rather than the Indiana limestone used to create the courthouse and City Hall. In fact, the courthouse’s construction began in 1884 with the laying of a 10,000-pound cornerstone — cut from quarries in Stinesville, known as the birthplace of the Indiana limestone industry.

Goldberg instead chose granite for his sculpture to avoid the hard-water problems — like calcification — common in the state, especially in limestone creations.

“That was a big chance I took, being in Indiana,” Goldberg quipped.

“It’s really dead simple and should be a lot easier to maintain,” he added.

Goldberg understands the bond between Indiana and limestone. He immersed himself in the “Indiana stone culture” while crafting a sculpture for Bloomington’s city hall in 1996. He hung out with stone cutters in the quarries around Bedford and struck up friendships. The end result was a 14-foot tall vessel, the “Bloomington Waters,” that flows into a channel flanked by river birch trees. For that sculpture, Goldberg used Hoosier limestone.

His other works include the Sylvan Portals, an arched entry to a nature area in Richardson, Texas, and the 90-foot-tall “Coral Eden,” a towering wall with seating at the bottom inside Miami International Airport. “Nothing is perfect, but they’re close,” Goldberg said of the two sculptures.

Though Goldberg and his wife of 37 years, Diana, often visit Indianapolis, her hometown, and despite his mid-1990s project in Bloomington, he’d never visited Terre Haute until March 2020 to check out the Turn to the River Phase 1 site. “I was really pleasantly surprised” by the city and the river.

That trip was also the last time Goldberg flew on a plane. All of the COVID-19 pandemic public-health precautions kicked in just days later. He’ll be back, though, to celebrate the expected completion of Phase 1 and his sculpture later this summer or early fall.

“I hope people use it,” Goldberg said. “And I hope people respect it and take care of it.”

If so, generations of people bracing for one of the hardest moments of their lives inside the courthouse or City Hall will benefit.
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