Currently, after entering N.E. Main Street in Franklin from US-23/441 North, drivers approaching Franklin’s downtown pass a gas station, some cafes, sundry businesses, and a billboard presenting the 10 Commandments. Just past the bridge that passes over the Little Tennessee Greenway is a dirt lot. And, while it may not look like much, it is the future site of a park that will display a sculpture titled “Sowing the Seeds of the Future.”
The Folk Heritage Association of Macon County (FHAMC) held a groundbreaking event Oct. 27 for the park and sculpture installation work to begin. “This monumental artwork will be the beginning, or trailhead, of the Women’s History Trail, a project of the FHAMC,” shared Mary Polanski, co-chair. “The sculpture was gifted to the Town of Franklin in fall 2022 and was completed by sculptor Wesley Wofford in May 2023. The support received from the community has been immeasurable.”
Wofford, whose studio is located in Cashiers, is internationally known and received an Academy Award for his work in advanced translucent silicones and techniques used in Hollywood films. The sculpture, as well as the Women’s History Trail (WHT), was an idea originally conceptualized by Barbara McRae, who died in 2021.
“Her vision was like sunshine,” said Polanski. “It spread all over Macon County and brought to life so many projects. History meant so much to her, and Franklin and this county will continue to benefit from her efforts for many years to come.”
Since the WHT focuses on local women’s contributions pertaining to history and culture – through a self-guided walking tour (maps available at Macon County Historical Museum and Chamber of Commerce) – the sculpture portrays three locally significant women.
Three contemporary area women were selected to model the historic women: sculptor and artist Angela Cunningham, who modeled Timoxena Siler Sloan, a white woman; Blue Jazz lead singer Delphine Kirkland, who modeled Sally (last name unknown), an enslaved woman; and, Wahlalah Brown of the Eastern Band of the Cherokee Indians, who modeled Na-Ka Rebecca Morris, a Cherokee woman. The three women represented in “Sowing the Seeds of the Future” are all connected historically by a specific piece of property that was on the Little Tennessee River across from the Nikwasi (Noquisiyi) Mound.
Interestingly, Timoxena Siler Sloan, born in 1835, was the daughter of this area’s early settlers, Jesse and Harriet Siler. The house where she was born and raised still stands on West Main Street in Franklin and is visible from the Methodist Cemetery. Siler is a well-known name with plenty of Macon County historical significance, including the popular hiking spot, Siler Bald, named for the Siler family.
A five-year grassroots campaign to raise funds to pay for the more $400,000 sculpture project (including installation and site costs, etc.) generated donations not only from the Town of Franklin and Macon County but also from local businesses, philanthropists, and individuals as well as ongoing monies contributed through volunteer-organized sales of cookies, native plants, lemonade, books, etc.
In December 2022, the sculpture mold was made in Wofford’s Cashiers studio and sent to one of the nation’s only large-scale foundries, Pyrology, in Bastrop, (near Austin) Texas, in order to undergo bronze casting. The 1,500-pound, 7-foot sculpture now waits in Texas until the new Franklin park and sculpture base are completed and ready for the installation ceremony – planned for March 2024.
Responsible for the site work, landscaping, and design is Clark & Company of Franklin. Richard Clark, a Macon County native, and Nichole Bradford, a Clark & Company landscape designer, were present at the groundbreaking. Using bright spray paint, they indicated on the ground where the sculpture, benches, and other elements would be placed.
“There will be long sitting benches, and plantings will make the area a little more private and intimate,” offered Clark. “There will be rock work and signage, and Big Bear Lane will be changed to a one-way road (connecting N.E. and E. Main streets).”
Clark, also responsible for Franklin’s downtown clock tower and Rankin Square parks, said, “I really like to do this type of work … to know I’m contributing to the community – seeing these things come to life that people can enjoy. I love my town and want to see things evolve in a tasteful way.”
Present at the groundbreaking, besides WHT leadership that includes Polanski; Marty Greeble, WHT co-chair/FHAMC vice-chair; Anne Hyder, FHAMC chairperson; Theresa Ramsey, FHAMC treasurer; and, Claire Suminski, FHAMC board member, were local leaders: Town of Franklin officials Rita Salain (town council member); Justin Setser (town planner); Jack Horton (mayor); Amie Owens (town manager); and, Macon County Commissioner Gary Shields. Unable to attend was Town Council Member Stacy Guffey, who was part of the planning committee for the sculpture project.
Commented Suminski, after dirt was shoveled into the spot where the sculpture will have a permanent home, “May the lives and interactions between the ladies in this sculpture grouping be an inspiration to our community members and guests to treat each other with kindness and mutual respect and to strive to work together for the good of all.”
Ramsey shared a quote by John Rice Irwin, founder of the Museum of Appalachia, in Clinton, Tenn.: “To appreciate where we are today, or where we are going tomorrow, we must understand where as a culture we’ve been in the past.”
Noted Mayor Horton, “This is a focal point for Franklin. People will come through Franklin just to see this sculpture. I took a trip to Wesley’s studio before the sculpture was bronzed and when you look at the sculpture, it just does something to you. It stirs you to understand the importance of the women represented, who all were connected right here – along the Little Tennessee River. It takes a lot of people to make something like this happen, but it’s happening. A dream is just a dream until the funds are raised and the work is done. For a town the size of Franklin, this sculpture is an honor.”
Franklin residents and visitors will be able to watch the park process take shape over the next few months as they drive on N.E. Main Street entering the town one way and on E. Main Street leaving the town.
Explained Ramsey, “We are starting with part of the plan’s overall design, which includes hardscaping – walls, rock benches, some pavers around the sculpture … and as we continue to secure funds, we can add other elements to the scope of the work. The remaining pavers to complete the pathways alone for future work in another phase is around $50,000, and we will need to raise more money to do the actual landscaping, setback berming, plantings, other lighting, etc. We are working with the Town of Franklin on this project.”