South Dakota’s City of Presidents Unveils Obama Statue

The new life-size bronze depicts the 44th president waving to the crowd and holding his daughter Sasha’s hand

With just three electoral votes, South Dakota is not a particularly heated battleground state in presidential politics, and big name candidates don’t often drop by. But last weekend, former President Barack Obama came to Rapid City to stay. Or at least his statue did.

The bronze likeness of Obama is the latest addition to Rapid City’s City of Presidents project. The idea is to honor American presidents with life-size bronzes scattered throughout the downtown. Each statue is privately funded and placement follows a preset pattern to make sure there is no favoritism or political bias in the process.

Since the project began in 2000, every president besides Obama have been immortalized on the streets of Rapid City from notables like Thomas Jefferson to obscure chief executives like Rutherford B. Hayes.

Tanya Manus at the Rapid City Journal reports that the 44th president's sculpture was created by local musician, writer and artist James Van Nuys, who has previously sculpted Millard Fillmore, Andrew Johnson and Franklin Pierce for the project (each can be located via the City of Presidents interactive walking tour). But the Obama statue, he says, was his biggest challenging to date.

“You’ve got millions of photos you can look at for modern presidents,” he says. “You can get views of every angle of their face, which is helpful if you’re the sculptor, but the likeness has to be better. People know what [President Obama] looks like. You have to make something that looks good from 360 angles, and you want to make a piece that looks nice and is interesting from every view somebody would look at it from. The gesture and expression has to represent the person."

The statue was scheduled to take about nine months, but instead it took him two years to complete. One reason, Dallerie Davis, co-founder of the project, tells KOTA was that they ultimately decided to alter their original design to make the Obama statue more evocative. “We found out that a standing guy who is waving is rather boring and the one thing we don't want to do is have a boring statue on the street, particularly someone like President Obama. He deserves a statue that isn't boring,” Davis says.

The final statue, kept under wraps until the unveiling ceremony earlier this week, depicts a suit-clad Obama walking and waving while holding the hand of his daughter Sasha. The moment was inspired by their real walk onto the stage to deliver his victory address at Chicago's Grant Park as the 2008 president-elect.

Davis expects the statue, on the corner of 4th and St. Joseph, will draw new visitors to the city. “We’ve had a lot of people indicate that they plan on coming from all over the United States. It’s remarkable to me how much interest there is…I feel we will have a really good audience for that one.”

A statue of President Trump will be created after he leaves office by James Michael Maher, another South Dakota artist, who has sculpted a bipartisan slate of presidents already, including Abraham Lincoln, Lyndon Johnson, Ronald Reagan, James Buchanan and George W. Bush.

Get the latest stories in your inbox every weekday.