MADE TO LAST

Local Artist Carves Largest In-Situ Celtic Cross in the World

Near the entrance to Blue Heron Vineyards and Winery (see article, this issue), a sign points down a rugged, winding road toward “the Celtic Cross.” The winery visitor is welcome to drive or walk down to view this massive sculpture that evokes some of the mystery of medieval Ireland and Scotland.

Carved within a 20’ x 22’ x 4’ sandstone boulder natural to the hillside, this artwork is believed to be the largest “in situ” Celtic cross in the world.

Carved within a 20’ x 22’ x 4’ sandstone boulder natural to the hillside, this artwork is believed to be the largest “in situ” (of its own stone) Celtic cross in the world.

The cross was commissioned by Gary and Lynn Dauby, the winery’s owners, and carved by Cannelton sculptor Greg Harris, whose story is as intriguing as is the presence of this monolith in the hills of southern Indiana. Harris is completely self-taught. He began carving when he was 9 or 10, making dogwood flowers on rocks using a screwdriver.

“A screwdriver was the only tool I had, and I couldn’t afford more,” Harris explained. “I often threw the finished pieces in the creek bed, where locals found them and started collecting them, believing they were Native American artifacts.”

“A screwdriver was the only tool I had, and I couldn’t afford more,” Harris explained. “I often threw the finished pieces in the creek bed, where locals found them and started collecting them, believing they were Native American artifacts.”

Harris has no theory to explain his innate talent, but in doing genealogical research, he recently discovered that his great-grandfather had been a Scottish stonecutter.

“Three tons of stone came out of that boulder,” Harris said. “I went through 70 power chisels.”

It took Harris 23 months to complete the Celtic cross – working alone, six days a week, through all types of weather. “Three tons of stone came out of that boulder,” Harris said. “I went through 70 power chisels.”

Cannelton is known for its sandstone, but the boulder at the winery is quartz sandstone, which is especially hard, and can be polished like granite. “I had to set up my own tool sharpening station at the foot of the cross because I needed to sharpen 25 to 30 chisels a day,” Harris said.

Setting a chisel against a blank face of stone can be a daunting experience, which is why Harris believes that practice and preparation are essential.

“I spent a lot of time making horse troughs. I always work from models or drawings, or sometimes both,” Harris said to describe his practice. He also read stacks of books on Celtic crosses from various disciplines. The design on one side of the cross, carefully researched, “is a Celtic symbol of the struggle of life,” Harris said.    

Sculptures by Harris can be found scattered across Indiana and beyond. His limestone bust of the late Edgar Whitcomb, a former Indiana governor, is located in the Statehouse Rotunda in Indianapolis.

Sculptures by Harris can be found scattered across Indiana and beyond. His limestone bust of the late Edgar Whitcomb, a former Indiana governor, is located in the Statehouse Rotunda in Indianapolis.

“Gov. Whitcomb was fascinated with the Celtic cross, enjoyed visiting the winery, and stopping by to watch the progress on the sculpture of him. He put the final touch on his own bust,” Harris said to indicate the friendship he had shared with the former governor.    

“Under the Buttonwood” is a Harris sculpture located in front of Indiana State University’s Federal Hall in downtown Terre Haute, the home of the University’s Scott College of Business. This limestone carving of a buttonwood leaf commemorates a 1792 meeting beneath a buttonwood tree (more commonly known as sycamore) on Wall Street in New York City where 24 stockbrokers signed an agreement establishing the New York Stock Exchange.

Harris has also created several sculptures for the town of Cannelton. The “Welcome to Historic Cannelton” sign is his rendering of the Cannelton Cotton Mill, a National Historic Landmark.

The cotton mill, completed in 1851, was once the largest industrial building in the United States west of the Allegheny Mountains. It closed in 1954 and was restored as an apartment complex in 2003. The building’s most striking features are 100-foot twin towers in Romanesque style, which are replicated on Harris’s sculpture.

The cotton mill, completed in 1851, was once the largest industrial building in the United States west of the Allegheny Mountains. It closed in 1954 and was restored as an apartment complex in 2003. The building’s most striking features are 100-foot twin towers in Romanesque style, which are replicated on Harris’s sculpture.

Like many of the structures in Cannelton’s historic district, the mill features locally quarried honey-colored sandstone, a distinctive signature of this river town and of Harris’s sculpture.

Perry County’s Veteran’s Park, located beside the County Museum in downtown Cannelton, is the site of one of Harris’s more recent sculptures, “Together We Serve.” Made of powder-coated steel, Harris designed this work as a tribute that recognizes the sacrifices, not only of soldiers, but of their families. Viewed from the front, a soldier with a weapon is prominent. Created with a loose-fitting uniform, the soldier’s gender is not recognizable. This soldier is flanked by a father and child, which can be seen when viewed from the side, and a mother and child on the other side. The sculpture serves to keep the struggles of the entire military family alive in our consciousness, reminding us that those who serve do not serve alone.

Harris created the large intarsia doors at the entrance to the winery. Made from catalpa, ash and sassafras woods, they portray the winery’s signature bird.

The Daubys, owners of The Blue Heron winery who commissioned Harris to create the Celtic Cross, also commissioned several other sculptures by him. Harris created the large intarsia doors at the entrance to the winery. Made from catalpa, ash and sassafras woods, they portray the winery’s signature bird.

Gary Dauby also pointed out an incredibly unique sculpture created by Harris: a small bronze replica of the Celtic Cross, which can be used by the blind to “see” the cross. “This cross is not cast bronze,” Gary Dauby said. “Harris carved it from bronze.” Dauby continued, “I have watched blind guests at the winery bend over this piece intently touching every nook and crevice.”

When asked about his favorite project, Harris returns to the Celtic Cross as being the most decisive for his career, and as holding the most personal meaning. “A thousand or 2,000 years from now, that cross will still be standing unless it is destroyed for some reason,” Harris said.  That fact must give him an incredible feeling of accomplishment. •   

Story by Julie Cato

Photos submitted by Lorraine Hughes

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