Statue of Johnny Appleseed dedicated at new downtown hotel

Gary Tillery was lead artist on the 400 lb. Johnny Appleseed statue unveiled Thursday. (Photo courtesy Ray Steup)

Fort Wayne’s latest public art display pays homage to one of the city’s most famous historical residents: John Chapman, better known as Johnny Appleseed.

The “Making Children Smile” statue unveiled Thursday during the grand opening of the Hampton Inn & Suites in downtown Fort Wayne features Johnny Appleseed seated on a bench with a shiny red apple in his outstretched hand. The statue is designed to be interactive, with an open seat where admirers can join alongside the American icon.

White Lodging, along with Mayor Tom Henry, other city officials and Michael Thena of the Johnny Appleseed Festival, unveiled the statue along West Jefferson Boulevard, just outside the new hotel and across the street from the Grand Wayne Convention Center.

The statue is the second public art piece reviewed and installed as part of the City of Fort Wayne’s Public Art Program. The program was established in March 2018 and seeks to enhance the visual environment and strengthen the positive reputation of Fort Wayne.

“We’re honored to welcome Johnny Appleseed’s Making Children Smile statue to our growing program,” Fort Wayne Public Art Commission Chair Nancy Stewart said in a statement. “Our goal for the program is to promote distinctive and diverse artwork that communicates the community’s sense of spirit, identity and pride. We thank White Lodging for commissioning a wonderful addition to the city.”

“The city of Fort Wayne has been great to White Lodging and we wanted to give something back that could be enjoyed by all in the vibrant area of downtown,” stated Deno Yiankes, president and CEO, investments and development at White Lodging. “The project has been fun to work on and truly celebrates Johnny Appleseed’s legacy and spirit in Fort Wayne.”

White Lodging commissioned Rotblatt-Amrany Studio of Timeless Creations, Inc., based in Highwood, Ill., with Gary Tillery as the lead artist on the project. Weighing nearly 400 pounds, the statue is crafted in traditional silicon bronze and took nearly ten months from concept to installation. Other statue works by the studio include Ernie Banks for the Chicago Cubs, Michael Jordan for the Chicago Bulls and several pieces for the University of Notre Dame, Purdue University, and the Munster (Indiana) Community Veterans Memorial.

“Creating the face was a special challenge,” Tillery stated. “No paintings or photos exist of Johnny Appleseed. I worked from a painting done many years after he died, based on memories of him. Since the painting was a profile, I had to imagine and recreate how he looked from the front.”

White Lodging and Tillery worked with Urbana University’s Johnny Appleseed Museum and the Johnny Appleseed Festival to ensure the most accurate historical representation.

The statue is adjacent to Parkview Field, where the main tenant — Fort Wayne’s minor-league baseball team — the TinCaps — also pays tribute to Johnny Appleseed.