The Cherokee Heritage Center in Park Hill, Oklahoma recently welcomed a new resident: a bronze stickball player, engaged in this early version of lacrosse, standing nearly 12 feet tall. The sculpture, called Resurgence, will be on permanent display in the center’s atrium.
For sculptor Daniel HorseChief, the work is a tribute not just to American Indians, but also to Jerome Tiger, an art prodigy who died in 1967 at the age of 26. Tiger—like HorseChief—was primarily a painter, and it has been said that his virtuosity broadened the possibilities for all Indian art that followed. “When I was younger, I saw an incomplete statue of a stickball player by Jerome Tiger,” HorseChief recalled. “To me it showed so much potential. It was monumental and larger-than-life, even though it was unfinished.”
The Stickballer is one of only a few existing sculptures that survived Tiger. “Jerome was such a perfectionist that most of them ended up being used for target practice,” said Mary Robinson, the director of the Five Civilized Tribes Museum in Muskogee, Oklahoma where The Stickballer anchors the Tiger collection and where HorseChief first saw it.
Although HorseChief’s work is similar to Tiger’s, he hasn’t seen the inspiration in years, and intentionally didn’t seek it out when creating Resurgence: “I wanted to be inspired by Jerome Tiger’s sculpture, but I didn’t want to copy it.”
While Resurgence stands on its own, it was originally part of a larger piece that would depict four stickball players intertwined. HorseChief still plans on completing that project as well.
For HorseChief, Resurgence has meaning beyond its athletic subject matter. “I had the idea of the phoenix coming out of the flames,” he said. “It portrays a tremendous comeback. To me, that’s the story of Native Americans. We haven’t gone anywhere, but we’re constantly moving forward through these tribulations. This figure is reaching up, literally going for his goal.”