by Timothy Chipp
Niagara Gazette — Sculptor Sue Geissler is hard at work in her Youngstown studio. She's affixing clay to massive molds which will eventually turn into a constant reminder of the past Lewiston will never be able to forget.
As the creator of the Tuscarora Heroes monument, which will be unveiled mid-December commemorating the 200th anniversary of the village's destruction at the hands of the British empire, she's responsible for taking the ideas of Lee Simonson and turning them into reality.
For her, it's an easy job.
"He and I know each other from school," she said. "To me, he's just Lee."
Their creation depicts two Tuscarora tribesmen rescuing a fleeing woman holding a baby, seemingly running from the carnage unfolding behind her.
Since the monument will be bigger than life, it will require an attention to detail Geissler said she's been able to achieve with a little help from her friends. Geissler, who previously designed the Freedom Crossing memorial statue which rests at Lewiston Landing, said she's gotten input from some of the area's reenactors, who've been around Lewiston quite a lot in the last 24 months. She said they've given her insights into detail levels she never would have gotten without them.
For instance, she said, the hair and clothing the two heroes will be depicted with were checked and adjusted during model creation. She said input about the native appearance was invaluable, as was what she was told about the muskets they will be holding in their hands.
"The detail of this is very accurate," she said. "We had some nice input from some of the reenactors. They told me what the hair would look like, what the tomahawks look like. We got the flint for the muskets. All the assistance saves me time doing the weapons."
Creating the monument people will actually experience in December is a lengthy process. She's more than half-way through her work at the studio, which will finish in late March or early April when her giant clay figures are shipped to a foundry she uses in Loveland, Colo.
There, plastic molding will be made of her creations and the originals destroyed. The plastic, which she said reminds her of hollowed out chocolate Easter bunnies, is layered with wax, about one-eighth-inch thick before being dipped repeatedly in a ceramic slurry. Once the shell is built up, the wax is melted and replaced with molten bronze.
Once the statue assembled, the final product will be installed at its permanent home at the corner of Portage Road and Center Street in Academy Park, likely in September. It'll be covered until it's unveiled at 6:30 p.m. Dec. 19, during a day-long program planned to recognize the events of 200 years before.
For those who can't wait, though, the Historical Association of Lewiston just minted a collector's coin which they're selling to help finance the monument creation.
Coins are two inches in diameter and feature a 3D printed version of the monument's action on one side. The reverse depicts a Tuscarora emblem with the turtle, eagle and northern white pine tree. Around the perimeter of this side is a quote from Tuscarora Chief Elias Johnson dated at 1881, which says: "The Tuscaroras were ever ready to sacrifice their blood upon the American altar."
"We worked closely with the Tuscaroras on every aspect of the coin, including the important symbolism and quote from Chief Johnson in 1881," Simonson, the coin and monument's designer, said. "Johnson wrote the native history on the Tuscarora Heroes action and spoke personally to men who actually were there and participated."
The burning of Lewiston remains as one of the only times native tribesmen assisted white civilians in crisis in American history.
To order the commemorative coin or for more information about it, call the Historical Association at 754-4214 or visit its headquarters at 469 Plain St. Interested individuals may also send a check payable to the "Historical Association of Lewiston" to the address, but should include an additional $4 for postage costs.
"We wanted to create a valued and lasting keepsake that would enable people to own and collect something that was related to the monument," Simonson said. "We had great success with the Battle of Queenston Heights coin and are confident demand will be just as high for the Tuscarora Heroes coin."