- The Washington Times - Monday, August 20, 2007

(AP) An initiative to put a statue of Helen Keller in the U.S. Capitol is moving forward after a year of delays.

Alabama Gov. Bob Riley, a Republican, and others traveled to Utah this summer to sign off on the final design of the bronze memorial. They said the statue could be completed by fall if things move swiftly.

“It is absolutely beautiful,” Mr. Riley said after the trip in June. The statue depicts the blind and deaf Miss Keller as a child standing by the water pump at her home in Tuscumbia, Ala., at the moment she solved what she called “the mystery of language,” when her teacher spelled out the word water in her hand while pumping water over her other hand.

Officials hoped the statue would be finished by June 2006, but the project was delayed as a state committee debated how to best capture Miss Keller’s facial expression and how to portray her eyes. Also, a congressional committee that oversees artwork in the Capitol requested minor changes in the original design, said Al Head, executive director of the Alabama State Council on the Arts.

The original plan included an extensive narrative about Miss Keller at the base of the base. The congressional committee wanted a simpler style consistent with others in the Capitol, with only basic information such as her name and home state. The committee also asked to remove decorative ivy that the artist depicted growing around the water pump.

“This could be in the Capitol for 50 or 100 years, so we want it to be as perfect as possible,” Mr. Riley said.

Each state has two statues in the Capitol as part of the National Statuary Hall Collection. Miss Keller’s statue would be the first of a disabled American and the first of a child, Alabama officials said. The design also includes braille characters.

The monument would replace the one of Jabez Lamar Monroe Curry, a former congressman, Confederate general and professor who was a longtime advocate of free universal education.

Curry’s statue has been in the Capitol since 1908. The state’s other statue, installed in 1925, is of Joseph “Fighting Joe” Wheeler, an officer in the Confederate Army and later the U.S. Army.

Mr. Head said the final design has been submitted to Congress, which is in recess until early next month.

Once the committee signs off on it, the statue will be sent to the foundry for casting, a process that will take about six weeks.

After that, it’s a matter of scheduling a public ceremony with congressional leaders, Mr. Head said.

The Keller statue, made by renowned sculptor Edward Hlavka, was funded by private donations. The project will cost about $275,000, Mr. Head said.