When I was first invited to begin conceptualizing this sculpture, it didn’t take long to realize that Fern Chamberlain couldn’t be portrayed with a traditional bronze likeness. She was much too modest for that kind of recognition. At the same time, her impact was much too extensive to be represented in one piece of sculpture. How could she be posed? What would she be doing? Which of her many endeavors would be portrayed? There was no answer so we redirected our efforts toward a more symbolic representation.
I’ve always been drawn to the dove as a symbol of caring, peace and the Holy Spirit. When I found out Fern had a deep faith, the dove became a no-brainer. But this dove goes beyond traditional symbolism because those identifiers aren’t quite enough to commemorate Fern. With this sculpture you see a dove captured in a more aggressive pose typically reserved for an eagle. It’s a more compelling expression of passionate service to the people of our community. No longer a passive ideal, Fern showed us that compassion must be an intentional, integral and even forceful element in today’s society.
“Compassion” is the first conceptual representation in my Icons of Sioux Falls series which include Msgr. John McEneaney, Senator R.F. Pettigrew, Coach Rich Greeno, and now, humanitarian Fern Chamberlain. There’s no doubt that she fits well in this group. Her desire to help others was unquenchable. Once again I was asked to sculpt the likeness of a wonderful soul that I didn’t have the pleasure of knowing, but hope to someday.
It’s been an absolute joy to create a sculpture honoring one of Sioux Falls’ quiet champions, while at the same time creating an iconic symbol of her compassionate spirit. The indomitable force that was Fern Chamberlain set programs in motion that are still vital today. It’s her spirit that lives on through her legacy of compassion.
Darwin Wolf, Sculptor
September 23, 2021