“Nemesis (Lady Justice)”

One of sculptor Steve Shields works, “Nemesis (Lady Justice)” resides in the Christian County Courthouse.

Through his life’s work as a celebrated artist and sculptor, the late Steve Shields is going to live forever.

But, it’s the citizens of Hopkinsville who’ll always be blessed beyond words.

The proof — no, it’s not living — happens to be in some of those breathtaking pieces of art that Steve created during his most remarkable life.

Take a good look around town if you’re not too busy to see what’s been there for everybody to enjoy for so many years.

Check out the buckskin-clad pioneer who stands tall at Pioneer Cemetery off Canton Street.

Check out the Greek goddess of retributive justice — “Nemesis” or Lady Justice — who greets visitors at the Christian County Justice Center.

Check out the brave soldier — “The Peacekeeper” — who keeps watch at Fort Campbell Memorial Park.

Check out the Greek muse of tragedy — “Melpomene” — who sits near the amphitheater of Hopkinsville Community College’s Round Table Literary Park.

Check out the Cherokee tribal leaders — Whitepath and Fly Smith — who bear witness at Trail of Tears Commemorative Park to the tragic story of the mistreatment of Native Americans long ago.

Check out the patron saint of warriors — Saint Michael — who wrestles with evil in the memorial park behind the Hopkinsville Police Department on North Main Street.

Hopkinsville wouldn’t be Hopkinsville without the creative hands of Steve Shields. It’s nothing but the truth.

Steve, a native of Red Oak, Iowa, was a proud resident of Hopkinsville for almost 30 years before his death from a heart attack on July 2, 1998, at the age of 51.

The loving family he left behind those many years ago — wife, Karen Shields, and now grown children, Marc, Robert and Jodi — has made it one of their missions in life to keep his legacy alive.

With help from Steve Shields’ sister, Margaret Marti, the family recently created a new website (http://steveshieldssculpture.virb.com/) that showcases his career and educates the public about some of the smaller and lesser-known pieces of his artwork.

Of course, the timing of the website project — the 20-year anniversary of his premature death — is bittersweet.

Karen Shields — a retired elementary school principal who still lives in Hopkinsville — said a day rarely goes by when somebody doesn’t bring up her late husband and the contributions he made to the local community.

As an example, she noted that just last spring, Amanda Ezell Collins, a teacher at Indian Hills Elementary School, put together a lesson about sculpting that allowed her fourth- and fifth-graders to learn all about Hopkinsville’s most famous sculptor.

“Steve always felt like the Hopkinsville and Christian County community was very supportive of him. That meant a lot to him,” Karen Shields said.

A self-taught sculptor, Steve Shields’ first large-scale project was the copper statue of the pioneer in Pioneer Cemetery. It was completed in 1984. In addition to the numerous statues and monuments that are in Hopkinsville, he also was hired in later years to create works of art for other communities near and far — like Fort Campbell, Paducah, Owensboro, Clarksville, Tennessee, Evansville, Indiana, and Gander, Newfoundland.

During his rise to fame, Gaylord Entertainment even commissioned him to do a 7-foot-3-inch sculpture of Tom Ryman that is displayed prominently outside of the Ryman Auditorium — “The Mother Church of Country Music” — in downtown Nashville, Tennessee. It was dedicated in 1994. And, while on the subject of music, let’s not forget Steve’s bust of Bill Monroe that was presented to the Bluegrass legend during a televised show celebrating the 70th anniversary of the Grand Ole Opry in 1995, and that retirement gift that the Opry folks had him make four years earlier for the great Minnie Pearl.

Marc Shields, an ophthalmologist who lives in Staunton, Virginia, said the website was a practical way for the family to catalog his father’s numerous art pieces and their locations.

There also was an educational goal. “There is now a generation of family members that never knew him personally and aren’t familiar with his work. The website brings his vision and efforts to a new generation,” Marc Shields explained.

Some of Marc’s most cherished childhood memories revolve around his father’s passion for sculpting. Often, he and his siblings served as the models for certain sculptures.

“As a young child, it was always mesmerizing to watch the flame coming out of the torch and the hot metal exploding as it reached a certain temperature,” Marc Shields said. “In retrospect, my memory is of how easy he made it look. Having tried his technique of sculpting, it is neither easy nor intuitive.”

When it comes to his father’s work, Marc said the Trail of Tears statues have always been his personal favorite. As for Karen Shields, “Melpomene” at HCC — which marked the first time that Steve Shields used a “breakthrough technique” for including strands of hair in his work — remains closest to her heart.

“Steve prided himself in being as realistic as he could,” she noted. “And, he always did make an effort to include women in his sculptures.”

Marc Shields said the love and respect shown for his father’s work is uplifting for the entire Shields family, particularly in this day and age when divisive statues linked to the Civil War and other turbulent times are being destroyed or removed from public places.

“Hopkinsville, however, decided to build its public art around more inclusive subjects,” he remarked.

Each and every one of the sculptures in town “strive for a more universal set of ideals that are more easily shared, regardless of ethnicity or gender,” according to Marc Shields.

“Hopkinsville as a community can be very proud of this, and I think it still is. It is always interesting to come back home and see the active role these pieces play in the lives of Hopkinsville citizens.”

ROB DOLLAR was a reporter and editor for the Kentucky New Era for 20 years. A resident of Hopkinsville, he has authored three books on topics of local interest in recent years. He can be reached at theezywriter@yahoo.com.

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