August 12, 2022

Article at Kokomo Lantern

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Reigniting the spirit of the Miamis

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He's a Denver -based African American artist known as Detour who is in Kokomo recapturing the first in “The City of Firsts.”

Thomas Evans is in Kokomo working on an Arts Federation-sponsored mural project depicting Kokomo's Miami Indians. It is being painted downtown on the wall of Foxes Trail restaurant on the banks of the Wildcat Creek, once reportedly the site of an original Miami Indian settlement.

Thomas “Detour” Evans snaps a reference photo of Sarah Ciders Bitzel, a descendant of the Miami Tribe of Oklahoma.

“This is a first,” said the popular restaurant’s co-owner, Christopher Ward. “As far as I can tell there’s nothing else around like this that has to do with the Miami tribe because they were in this area.”

The mural was conceived and funded by Tetia Lee, the Arts Federation's Executive Director, who is in town also. The Chinese-American, classically trained painter has overseen the creation of more than 100 murals.

When queried as to why no Black or other persecuted Kokomo natives will depicted in the mural, Lee replied, “If we look at the history of Kokomo, this was the first injustice and it is important that we start there, and that the visual dialogue continue from there.

“Hoping that this will then spark more work that has representation at the top of the mind because in our state that is sorely missing from our landscape. It is very important that our young people, especially, see representation and they see themselves in the artwork that is portrayed in their communities. Seeing the impact that these works make in a community, I mean you just can’t put value to that. It is inspirational.”

“What was forcibly taken away is being put back through this mural.” – Sally Tuttle, Native American activist and savant

Sarah Ciders Bitzel, the Miami Indian descendent whose likeness will be portrayed in the new mural, lives in Peru but attended school in Kokomo and has family here. Bitzel had never modeled before the mural’s photography session.

“The experience itself, and what the experience is accomplishing, is amazing,” she said. “Especially knowing where we came from and where we are today and how the community has seemed to start to really recognize the Native community more as things progress and people are educated in a better way.”

Bitzel’s image, as reflected by Detour’s mural mastery, will be the de facto face of the entire Native Indian culture, as well as Kokomo’s Miami Indian community.

“It is very honorable for me to represent our people in that way,” she said. “It says that we are here and proud to be here as part of the entire community.”

Evans, a.k.a. Detour, is an all-around creative, specializing in large scale public art, interactive visuals, portraiture, immersive spaces, and creative directing. His focus is to create work where art and innovation meet. His colorful, realistic portraits have been featured throughout the nation and abroad.

“A lot of my work requires high contrasts, so shadows but very bright highlights where the sun is bouncing off the skin,” Evans explained. “For me, having that contrast is super important. I don’t work from other photos that people may take. I have to have my own photos to make sure the pose is unique, the work is unique. It is one of a kind, but also that my colors will pop. That’s why I like to curate what’s in the photo as I am using it as a reference.”

Robin Williams, the Arts Federation’s Regional Advisory Council Representative for Howard County, said selecting the "Art as a Social Discourse" lead team for the mural project was both an honor and heady task.

“We are lucky to have an embarrassment of riches with folks who have done significant work in social justice and civil rights right here in Kokomo,” said Williams. “Sally Tuttle’s tireless advocacy work on behalf of the Native American Indian community, Janie Young’s work with NAACP and M.L.K.Commission, J.C. Barnett’s role leading IUK’s Black Student Center, should be recognized as significant vision and advocacy sitting at the table for this project.”

Aside from the MLK Commission Monument, this is the most significant public art project which addresses social justice and recognition of Kokomo’s root history. The mural is viewed as a “long overdue display of respect and regret.”