A dedication ceremony for the "Kindred Spirits" sculpture in Midleton, Co Cork will be held on June 18. Irish artist Alex Pentek created the large sculpture as a symbol of gratitude for the Choctaw Nation’s support of the Irish during the famine when they collected $585 for relief, a massive amount at the time..
The sculpture, which was installed in Bailic Park in 2015, is made of marine-grade stainless steel and LED lighting and features nine 20-foot eagle feathers, weighing 1,600 pounds each, which form a perfect circle.
“The idea behind this artwork was that the feathers represent an empty bowl, symbolizing the Great Irish Famine when more than one million people died of starvation, and a further one million people emigrated due to lack of food,” said the 43-year-old artist, who spent a year working on the sculpture. “The nine eagle feathers represent the Choctaw Nation.
“The Choctaw Indians heard about the famine in Ireland and pooled together a donation, which they sent to the Irish Famine Fund, and this was used to assist the millions of people who were dying of malnutrition,” he added. “Their support was demonstrated through the fact that they donated this money at a time when they had little to spare themselves – they had not long survived the Trail of Tears.”
Choctaw Nation Chief Gary Batton said he was moved by the piece and by his ancestors’ generosity.
“This sculpture reminds me of who we are as Choctaw people – we are humanitarians, and we have always looked out for the betterment of people,” Batton said. “After we came across the Trail of Tears, our tribe, our people, literally pulled together money. After going through the struggles of losing our people and loved ones, then our people turned around and thought about the greater good – the people over in Ireland. That is just a huge heart.”
The Choctaw people’s donation was $585, which, back around then, was a “significant amount” of money, he added.
“We as people were willing to sacrifice and give something after we went through our own trials and tribulations,” Batton said. “I’m proud that the donation displayed our values as a nation.”
Pentek, who specializes in large-scale sculpture, gallery art and sound performance at the National Sculpture Factory in Midleton, was asked by the Cork County Council to create the ‘Kindred Spirits’ after he won a competition that asked participants to create an artistic response to the Choctaw donation.
“I was happy to be able to give a visual representation to a story from history I remember learning about when I was in school,” Pentek said.
“Though I had created a 3D computer model of the work, it was only after the work was in place that I could see the entire work together for the first time, and whether it was a success or not,” he said. “This was a special day for me, and I felt very pleased with how it looked.
“This bond has never been forgotten by Ireland, though I believe Kindred Spirits is the first sculpture commemorating this history,” Pentek added.
A dedication ceremony for the art piece will take place on June 18, with Batton and other representatives of the Choctaw Nation.
“It might be called a homecoming of friends,” Batton said. “It will be a celebration to continue to share our rich cultures.
“The Irish people had their struggles and trials, and so did we,” he added. “Both of us have come full circle to where we both are strong, thriving nations. We both hold our culture and our history close to us because they have shaped us to who we are today.”
Said Pentek: “It is my hope to visually connect with people, this uplifting image that symbolizes generosity, strength and humanity rising up over times of adversity and unimaginable suffering,” he said. “For me, this shows art as a universal language that can connect with people, regardless of age, culture or geography, and can help to dissolve traditionally perceived boundaries.”