When Marshal McCully made the run into the Cherokee Outlet, he settled in Aline and began building a sod house from the clay and buffalo grass he dug from the earth. He erected a 12-foot by 25-foot, two-room house, where he lived from 1894 to 1909.
More than 100 years later, and thanks to preservation efforts, his sod house still stands as a testament to his pioneer spirit. McCully’s pioneer spirit will be further recognized on May 15, when a bronze statue of his likeness is unveiled and presented to the Sod House Museum in his memory.
The dedication and unveiling of the bronze, by sculptor-artist Burneta Venosdel, will take place 1-3 p.m. to continue the celebration of the 126th anniversary of the sod house. State Sen. Roland Pederson, Rep. Carl Newton and Oklahoma Historical Society Board of Directors President Deena Fisher will assist with the unveiling of the sculpture.
Venosdel will be on-site for the unveiling of her bronze, which is 21 inches by 15 inches by 10 inches and is being donated by the artist to the museum. She said the idea for the sculpture started when she presented a program at the museum in 2015.
Venosdel, who was raised on a small farm in Oklahoma where the land run of 1893 rooted her family, creates paintings and sculptures that are dynamic, western-influenced and detail-rich.
“As a sculptor, my subject matter is connected to my upbringing and pioneer roots to Northwestern Oklahoma,” Venosdel said. “I am driven to express myself and record those subjects in bronze.”
Venosdel lived in Cleo Springs for a time, then moved to Tahlequah. She and her husband returned to the area to take care of aging parents, and that is when Venosdel started teaching classes at the Sod House.
“I’ve always been interested in the Sod House,” she said. One day when doing a demonstration for a class at the museum, she began molding a clay sculpture meant to be the likeness of McCully. After the demonstration was over, the piece sat on the backburner for a while, but it turned into what eventually would become the dedicated sculpture.
She first made the sculpture in clay, working carefully to create a good likeness of McCully. She worked from photographs of him when he was both young and old, and settled on a combination of both, somewhere around age 50.
When the clay rendition was unveiled at the museum a couple years ago, Venosdel said she met a McCully relative who looked just like the sculpture she was trying to create.
An additional authentic touch to the sculpture is the base. Venosdel made the foundation to look like the slabs of sod with which McCully built the house.
“It kind of shows the layout of what the inner walls would be,” she said. “The clay I work with is soil and petroleum, so I thought, ‘How fitting.’ I’m trying to recreate in clay what they did with the soil.
“To me, that’s a connection that 126 years ago, he was struggling with building the house, and I’m now struggling with the clay to make a facsimile of what he had built with actual soil.”
The sculpture was tweaked a bit more before it was time to fire it at the foundry. She had to redo the mold before sending it to a foundry in Colorado.
Everyone will get their first look at the finished product in bronze during the May 15 unveiling.
“I’m dedicating it in honor of both my great-grandparents and my husband’s great-grandparents,” she said.
The bronze will be featured among the artifacts and exhibits displayed at the museum. The museum encloses the original sod house which is the key exhibit. Visitors can enjoy the experience of walking through the “soddy” and exploring exhibits, artifacts, photographs and a root cellar.
The artifacts and exhibits portray the daily activities of the pioneers. Museum grounds include an additional building displaying horse-drawn equipment and period farm implements. The museum offers exhibits, tours, educational programs and events.