By Gina Malone
Driving through Waynesville last fall, Earl Lanning, an 86-year-old Haywood County native, had a revelation. “All my life I’ve been wondering why [Waynesville] didn’t have a Revolutionary War Memorial,” he says. After all, his own family’s presence in Western North Carolina stretches back to 1797, after his fifth great-grandfather discovered the area as a militiaman with the Rutherford Expedition in 1776. “All of a sudden it occurred to me,” Lanning says. “Well, you fool, I told myself, you’re the one that’s going to have to do it.” And, after proposing the idea to commissioners and receiving a nod, he went to work.
Lanning learned to create bronze sculptures while living in Wyoming. There, he spent four years working with Bud Boller, Jr., whom Lanning calls “the finest sculptor in America” at that time. “Now you can’t teach people art,” Lanning says, “but you can teach them technique. I learned an awful lot from him.”
That knowledge and his determination led Lanning, in the months since assigning himself the task of creating the memorial, to work 12 or more hours a day seven days a week in his garage studio until he had a clay figure ready to send to a foundry in Pennsylvania. “That was too big a job for a guy to take on at my age if he was a normal guy,” Lanning says. “But I’ve never been normal, so I got it done.” Except for his years with Boller, he is self-taught as a sculptor.
“Earl is a fabulous artist,” says N.C. State Rep. Joe Sam Queen. “He is a world-class gunsmith doing flintlock reproductions, just stunning flintlock pieces in the traditional way. He has done sculptures large and small all over the Southeast. It’s his personal passion to represent the patriot spirit on the western front of the frontier. That is the spirit of this statue.”
When Lanning arrives for the dedication of Militia Rifleman on July 4, he will be dressed in buckskin and carrying a Kentucky longrifle just as his 18th-century forebears might have.
The bronze statue, standing 83 inches tall and weighing about 800 pounds, will be mounted on an 18- inch thick, four-ton native granite rock. It will stand by the flagpole in front of the Historic Haywood County Courthouse as a testament to Western North Carolina’s contribution to American history and Lanning’s appreciation for that history.
The dedication ceremony will take place in front of the Historic Haywood County Courthouse on Thursday, July 4,
at 2 p.m. The Downtown Waynesville Association will hold its Stars & Stripes Celebration that day also from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Shops and restaurants will be open their usual hours. To learn more about Earl Lanning’s work, visit BlueRidgeHeritage.com/artist/earl-lanning. Lanning’s smaller sculptures, including Militia Rifleman, may be found at Balsam Ridge Gallery at 44 North Main Street in downtown Waynesville.