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Keller statue for U.S. Capitol almost finished

By Ben Evans
Associated Press Writer

WASHINGTON — After a year of delays, plans are moving forward for an Alabama initiative to put a statue of Helen Keller at her “moment of epiphany” in the U.S. Capitol.

Gov. Bob Riley and others traveled to Utah this summer to sign off on the final design of the bronze memorial. They said it could be unveiled as early as the fall if things move swiftly.

“It is absolutely beautiful,” Riley said in an interview after the June trip. The statue depicts the blind and deaf Keller as a child standing by the water pump at her home in Tuscumbia, at the moment she solved what she called “the mystery of language” when her teacher spelled out the word water in her hand while pumping water over her other hand.

Officials initially planned a June 2006 unveiling of the statue, but the project was held up as a state committee overseeing it debated how to best capture Keller’s facial expression and how to portray her eyes. Also, a congressional committee that oversees artwork in the Capitol requested minor changes in the original design, said Al Head, executive director of the Alabama State Council on the Arts.

The original version contained extensive narrative about Keller at the statue’s base, and the congressional committee wanted a simpler style consistent with others in the Capitol, with only basic information such as her name and home state. The committee also asked to remove decorative ivy that the artist depicted growing around the water pump.

“This could be in the Capitol for 50 or 100 years, so we want it to be as perfect as possible,” Riley said.

Each state has two statues in the Capitol as part of the National Statuary Hall Collection. Keller’s statue would be the first of a disabled American and the first of a child, Alabama officials say. The design also includes braille characters.

The monument would replace an existing statue of Jabez Lamar Monroe Curry, a former congressman, Confederate general and professor who was a longtime advocate of free universal education.

Curry’s statue has been in the Capitol since 1908. The state’s other statue is of Joseph “Fighting Joe” Wheeler.

an officer in the Confederate Army who moved to Lawrence County and later served in the U.S.Army.

Head said the final design has been submitted to Congress, which is in recess until early September. Once the committee signs off onit, the statue will be sent to the foundry for casting, a process that will take about six weeks.

After that, it’s a matter of scheduling a public ceremony with congressional leaders, Head said.

The Keller statue, made by renowned sculptor Edward Hlavka, was paid for by private donations. The project will cost about$275,000, Head said.

Copyright 2005 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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