The Village of Custer’s entry in the Mason County Sculpture Trails is almost finished, and will soon be on its way to Michigan, in time for an installation and dedication in October.
The sculpture is a tribute to Johnny’s Bandstand, a music hotspot dating back to the early days of rock ’n’ roll, which brought world-famous bands and artists to Custer in the 1940s and ’50s. It depicts a trio of musicians frozen in mid-song — a singer-guitarist crooning in front of a ’40s microphone, a pianist with fingers dancing across the keys, and a percussionist with sticks in hand, tapping away at a snare drum — all stylized and rendered in bronze.
The final touches are being put on it now in Utah by Arizona-based artist Tyson Snow. Once it arrives, it will be paired with a bas-relief showing people dancing to the music, and set in a pathway lined with bricks purchased by and inscribed with the names of people who donated to the project.
The sculpture is expected to ship within the next week or so, and it will be installed on Oct. 2, with a formal dedication set to take place 2 p.m. on Sunday, Oct. 3 at Mason County Eastern school grounds, according to Lolly Griswold, co-chair of the Custer Sculpture Committee.
Snow and Mason County music legend Edgar Struble are both set to appear as special guests during the dedication, along with local historian Bill Anderson and Ed Miller, who is also on the committee.
The completion of the sculpture has been five years in the making, according to Griswold. She and the other committee members were tasked with raising funds for the project, which has been planned since 2017. In September 2018, the committee launched a formal fundraising campaign to bring in $60,000 — the expected total at the time — to fund the creation of the sculpture.
Griswold said it feels good to see the work so close to completion.
“I think it’s very exciting. We’ve worked hard, we’ve worked for a long time, we’ve had a lot of community and business support and it’s finally coming together,” she said. “I’m glad people can see their donations have gone to something.”
Over time, the initial total increased by about $10,000 as drainage issues were identified on the plot where the sculpture is set to stand, on the Mason County Eastern school grounds, on the east side of Custer Road just south of the high-school building.
With matching grants from the Community Foundation from Mason County, and several donations from members of the community, the funds were finally raised earlier this year.
Some additional funds are still needed to truly make the sculpture part of the historical sculpture trails. Griswold said between $6,000 and $8,000 will be needed to realize all aspects of the project, including the on-cell technology — available in the other sculpture trail entries in the area — which allows viewers to call in and listen to an audio message about the sculpture and the portion of history it represents.
Griswold said COVID-19 hindered fundraising in 2020, and costs increased during that time, pretty much across the board.
“Costs have gone up, and it’s put us behind where we were supposed to be,” Griswold said. “The additional funds will be to finish things like landscaping, on-cell technology (and) at some point we’d like to have a gazebo or picnic area.”
Donations to help with the remaining costs can be made to Community Foundation for Mason County (CFFMC), P.O. Box 10 Ludington 49431, with “Custer Sculpture” on the check. Or send a check to Custer Sculpture, P.O. Box 37 Custer, MI 49405.
The committee has the funds to make the final payment, however, and the sculpture will ship from Utah to Custer soon. It’s expected to arrive in the area in about two weeks.
Even without the funds to complete the project in full, the sculpture will soon be there for all to see.
“The sculpture will be installed and available for people to view it,” she said. “We have a bench that’s there, and we’re waiting for the memorial bricks, but as soon as those arrive they’ll be installed.
“Hopefully before winter, we’ll have some of the additional things in place.”
Griswold said she believes that seeing the sculpture will strike a chord with locals and move them to bring the project to completion.
“When you consider Custer is a village with about 300 people, Johnny’s Bandstand drew so many people here, and that’s what people talk about when you meet someone and you mention you’re from (Custer),” she said. “My hope is that, when people see that it’s actually there, that some of the people who were hesitant to donate will step forward now and make a donation to complete the project.”