Friday, June 21, 2024

County rescinds donated statues following ruling from historical commission

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The Hood County Commissioners Court voted to rescind the donation of two bronze statues during its regularly scheduling meeting on Sept. 12, following a final ruling from the Texas Historical Commission (THC) stating that the statues were essentially “too big.”
HISTORY
The two statues — Silent Prey and Black Star — are two pieces crafted by well-known Texan and Western artist Covelle Jones and were recently donated to the county by the Ken Hill Foundation. The statues were presented by CEO Jeff Farris, who is in charge of the disbursement of the late Ken Hill’s estate.
Although both statues were previously accepted by the Hood County Commissioners Court during the bimonthly meeting on Nov. 29, 2022, the location of the Black Star statues was not properly agreed upon, which spurred Precinct 4 Commissioner Dave Eagle to place the item back on the Aug. 8 agenda to clear up any confusion.
While Black Star faced controversy with some residents calling the medicine woman a “witch,” the statue was eventually approved by the commissioners on Aug. 8. Both statues were then scheduled to be placed on the northeast corner of the Hood County Courthouse lawn on Sept. 8.
However, during its regularly scheduled meeting on Aug. 22, the Hood County Commissioners Court sparked discussion on the topic again, when it was revealed that the THC had final say on the matter.
“I put this on the agenda as a discussion only item,” Eagle said, during the Aug. 22 meeting. “But this is not about the merits of the statues. I've got a grant of easement here that this county granted to the Texas Historical Commission back on December 12, 2000, and this grant of easement really takes it completely out of our hands.”
Hood County Judge Ron Massingill then explained that once he had learned that the THC needed to be contacted for a final vote, he reached out to Senator Brian Birdwell and explained the situation.
“I said what had happened, and that we've taken two votes,” Massingill said. “We passed it in November of 2022, that the two statues Black Star and Silent Prey, could be put on the courthouse square lawn and then we passed it again two weeks ago. I said, ‘No one knew. At least it was never brought up and I didn't know about it, but I am a lawyer and I do follow the law.’”
Birdwell then put Massingill in contact with Mark Wolfe, the executive director of the THC, where several emails were exchanged back and forth detailing the statues and their significance to the county.
Massingill read the email exchanges to the public and to the court during the Aug. 22 meeting and assured everyone that the county “would not install anything” until permission was obtained from the Texas Historical Commission.
FINAL RULING
After days of uncertainty, Massingill revealed on Sept. 12, during the next regular meeting of the Hood County Commissioners Court that the THC had denied the application of placing Silent Prey and Black Star on the Hood County Courthouse lawn.
“For clarification, they did not deny the application based upon Black Star being a pagan worship site,” Massingill said, during the Sept. 12 meeting. “They said it was too big and it detracted from the look of the courthouse. That's in essence, what they said.”
Following the news, many residents came up to the podium to express their opinion on the final verdict from the THC.
"When I saw on the agenda plans to rescind the donation made from the Ken Hill Foundation, I felt compelled to talk," said Courtney Coates Blackman, member of the Shanley Park Board. “I believe there is an ideal location for Silent Prey and the Black Star in the city park behind city hall.”
Blackman explained that the Shanley Park Board is currently working on turning Shanley Park into the Shanley Sculpture Garden, similar to the Benson Sculpture Garden in Loveland, Colorado.
Jason Hodges, Blackman said, is a new board member who had previously moved to Granbury from Lubbock, where he was the landscape architect for the outdoor arts and installations at Texas Tech University.
“He does outstanding work and recently, we had the opportunity to walk the park and talk about ideas for future installations,” she said. “I told him about the bronzes donated by Mr. Farris, and I think we found the perfect spot for Silent Prey and several options for Black Star. In the location that we have chosen for Silent Prey, you would be able to see it from Houston Street, and it would be a very dramatic entrance to the city park/Shanley Sculpture Garden while still being on city property.”
Blackman explained that she was unsure if the city and county could collaborate on this project, but had hopes that Farris would agree to it, as “it would be a shame” for citizens and visitors of Granbury to not be able to enjoy “majestic pieces of art” from such a well-known and successful artist.
"I have known Covelle for over 45 years, and he was an incredible sculptor,” she explained. “In ‘84 and ‘85, the state legislature named him the official Texas State Artist of the Year. One of his bronzes is in the White House, and another one is on display at the Alamo.”
She added that Granbury and Hood County “should not pass up this extraordinary chance to acquire these remarkable works of art.”
“We should not let this pass us by as it will unlikely ever be an opportunity for us again,” Blackman said. “I am sure Ken Hill and Covelle Jones would have wanted these pieces to stay in Granbury — we just need to find the right situation to make that happen.”
Stacey Martin, board member of the Granbury Cultural Arts Commission, also spoke in favor of Blackman’s idea of the Ken Hill Foundation donating the sculptures to the city.
“It would be amazing because it does support the cultural arts history,” she said. “It enhances our footprint greatly with tourism, and it's a teaching moment for all of the children and adults to celebrate the history of Granbury.”
Resident Tina Brown added that if there was anything the community could do to allow the statues to be moved in the city, to let everyone know and she would do her best to help.
Massingill put the motion to a vote in rescinding the two statues to the Ken Hill Foundation in the care of Jeff Farris, chairman of the board. The vote passed unanimously.
KEN HILL REIMBURSEMENT
Massingill then moved on to the next agenda item, which focused on reimbursing the Ken Hill Foundation for the cost of the Silent Prey bronze and the Black Star bronze, totaling $5,730.
Resident Harold Granek spoke in favor of the reimbursement as it was “only fair.”
"I want to congratulate Commissioner Eagle digging up the fact that there were restrictions," Granek said. “I wish he had dug that up early enough that we wouldn't be in this position where the foundations were paid for — I don't know if the foundations can be utilized if it then goes to the park or not — but I think it's reasonable that because the air sits on the county's part for not recognizing that early enough that we just do not penalize the Hill Foundation."
Precinct 2 Commissioner Nannette Samuelson then chimed in, saying she was having a “difficult time saddling the taxpayers with $5,700.”
"This was no fault of the taxpayers,” she said. “The county commissioners and the Hall of Historical Commission were not aware of this requirement of the Texas Historical Commission that the agreement that was entered into when the courthouse was restored. That is the duty of the Historical Commission to understand what those requirements are, so I have a really hard time saddling the taxpayers with the mistake that was made.”
Massingill then replied and explained that he knew about the restrictions on the courthouse itself, meaning how no permanent changes could be made, but he was unaware about the easement that had been granted in 2000.
"It's a tricky deal,” Massingill said. “I wrote a bunch of letters, saying that this was not done intentionally. It passed in November. I don't know if the state would have ever found out about it, but there was an uproar about Black Star being pagan worship. That's what started all this.”
He then added that the Ken Hill Foundation was not to blame for this mistake, and how they give enough to the community as it is.
"Last year, the Ken Hill Foundation gave close to $900,000 to 501(c)(3) organizations in Granbury and Hood County, so I think that asking Hood County to reimburse the Ken Hill foundation $5,730 when they've contributed and will, in hope, in all likelihood, continue to make contributions like this to help our community, I think it's certainly worth doing the right thing,” Massingill said. “The right thing, in my opinion, is reimbursing the cost that the Ken Hill Foundation paid for the foundations.”
"To understand what you’re saying, you would have been OK going against the ruling over the laws that were set forth with the agreement with the Texas Historical Commission, as long as they didn't find out?” Samuelson asked Massingill. “Is that what you're saying?”
“No,” Massingill responded. “I am a lawyer.”
“That sounded like what you said,” Samuelson replied. “When you said, ‘The only reason that this is happening is because they found out about it,’ and that is not true. We should have always known. Lesson learned. We need to know what the requirements are and go and be in alignment with the requirements so that this doesn't happen again. We need to know what the requirements are.”
Massingill responded to Samuelson saying he gave every board member all of the copies of the letters that were written to Wolfe and Susan Tietz, the program coordinator at the Courthouse Prevention Program at the Texas Historical Commission.
"Nobody knew about it in the county as far as I knew,” he said. “The city attorney didn't know about it. Nobody knew about it until we got to do the investigation phase of it. It's not Ken Hill's fault.”
“No, it is definitely not. It is this court for not knowing what the rules were,” Samuelson said.
Massingill then put the motion of reimbursing the Ken Hill Foundation with $5,730 to a vote.
Precinct 1 Commissioner Kevin Andrews, Precinct 3 Commissioner Jack Wilson, and Massingill voted “yes,” with Eagle and Samuelson abstaining.

ashley@hcnews.com | 817-573-1243