WASHINGTON, D.C. - Sarah Winnemucca, Paiute Indian author and human rights activist, made a triumphant return to Washington, D.C., Wednesday afternoon as her 6-foot-4-inch bronze likeness was unveiled in the rotunda of the U.S. Capitol before a delegation of state and national officials.
Hundreds of Nevadans, from descendants of Winnemucca to those who made the trip just to witness history, were also present as sculptor Benjamin Victor's masterpiece made its official debut.
As though acknowledging her presence in the storied hall, the shroud covering the statue snagged temporarily on the namesake shellflower held in Winnemucca's right hand as First Lady Dema Guinn began the unveiling.
"Sarah's life is a story of firsts," said Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nev. "Sarah's statue fits in well among other 'first' Americans in the Capitol, individuals like our first president, George Washington, and the first woman elected to the U.S. House of Representatives, Jeanette Rankin."
"It makes you proud to be a Nevadan," said U.S. Public Printer Bruce James, fresh from the ceremony.
For James, the most touching moment was when the young sculptor was warmly embraced by Gov. Kenny Guinn.
"You could sense the fact that this was truly a historic moment," he said.
Bob Harmon, public information officer for the Nevada Department of Cultural Affairs called the ceremony "magical," emphasizing the sense of movement captured so effortlessly in the statue.
"She just looks so beautiful and so alive," he said, comparing the overwhelming, rugged beauty of the Paiute princess to the beauty of the state. "She was this complicated, full-spectrum character, and here she is brought back to life by a talented young artist."
"Now, over a century after her death," he added, "her work can continue."
After a few months in the rotunda, Victor's statue of Winnemucca will join Yolande Jacobson's sculpture of Sen. Patrick McCarran in the National Statuary Hall, an odd couple for sure, but perfect mates to represent the diverse history and evolution of the state.
In "High Spirited Women of the West," author Anne Seagraves notes "Sarah Winnemucca will always be remembered as a dedicated Native American woman who belonged to two cultures. With one foot in the Indian Nation and the other in the white man's world, she sped across the plains like a blazing arrow only to fall short of her target."
"Disillusioned and betrayed," writes Seagraves, "Sarah died before she completed her mission, believing herself to be a failure."
Benjamin Victor once compared sculpting the piece to writing a novel - perhaps a fitting epilogue to Winnemucca's groundbreaking "Life Among the Piutes: Their Wrongs and Claims." Now standing proud in a hall next to some of the greatest Americans in history, there's little doubt Winnemucca's legacy will be seen as anything but a success.
An identical statue will be unveiled in a public ceremony in the Nevada Capitol on April 6 at 5:30 p.m.
n Contact reporter Peter Thompson at firstname.lastname@example.org or 881-1215.