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Sculpting Warriors

Local sculptors create hand-carved cigar store Indian statues

Writer / Suzanne Huntzinger
Photographer / Jamie Sangar

In these modern times, there are thousands of varieties of signs to announce the product or service offered in a store. But imagine going to a strip mall and not knowing which shop sold what goods. In the early 1800s, the Indians made signs by carving an Indian from wood, carefully etching an object in the shape of the items sold in the store. It’s no surprise that right outside a cigar shop would be a statue of an Indian holding cigars. Villagers loved statues for their artistry and historical value.

But through the years, many decayed or were destroyed. Somehow the fan base for these beloved statues survived. One special gallery in Geist has done amazing things to preserve the history and artistry of these special figures. Fall Creek Gallery, owned by sculptors Julie Hollis and Chie Kramer, brings these Cigar Store Indian statues back to life.

As the number one producer of tobacconist figures, Julie and Chie sculpt Cigar Store Indian masterpieces by hand out of wood. They use the wood from dead trees only, donated from tree services.

“Our client base is one of the most eclectic I’ve ever seen,” Hollis says. “We get requests from anyone ranging from the most passionate cigar smoker to the general art aficionado.”

About half of their clients request the statue for their private homes and the rest make their homes in an office setting.

“Some clients call asking for a specific Indian Chief or squaw, and we’ll research it and make it. Others buy one ready-made from the gallery,” Hollis says.

Part of the market for tobacconist figures comes from fans of Punch Cigars. The Cigar company started in 1840 and fashioned their statues with animated, whimsical features. Antique Punch Cigar figures are hard to find, and some can go for hundreds of thousands of dollars. But you can have a replica made at Fall Creek Gallery. The Gallery is the only one that makes Punch figures, and Hollis and Kramer can recreate one at a much more reasonable price.

Customizing art for clients is something Hollis and Kramer have been doing for years. Kramer began his 30-year career as a sculptor and became a Hoosier Salon Award Winning Sculptor. Hollis has a 20-year career as a floral designer, and she still maintains her clientele through Julie’s Flowers of Geist.

When the pair met and married, their art took a new path.

“It’s a fusion of art and love,” Hollis says.

The two blended their crafts, together making about 6,000 sculptures through the years. But producing art didn’t remain so simple. Hollis was diagnosed with breast cancer and had to undergo painful surgery. The recovery process was equally painful. But art triumphed, and it was Kramer who helped make that happen.

“Chie suggested that I start sculpting again,” Hollis says. “He thought the movement of my hands and arms would be great physical therapy, and it was.”

Now the couple continues creating cigar store Indian statues in the gallery, inspired by the peaceful setting of their riverside property, which sits tucked away along the Fall Creek trail. You’ll often find them on their porch working on a statue.

“We don’t stop in the winter,” Hollis says. “We’ve been out here in our coats and boots in the cold weather working to complete a statue.”

Browsing through their gallery, you can see their passion for their art shining through in each piece. Each statue sits about four to six feet tall and sits on a stand. They range from the very high detail, fully painted with well-defined features to a very basic figure and are priced accordingly.

“All are unique in the end,” Hollis says. “They each have their own little soul.”

Come check out these life-like Indian statues for yourself. Fall Creek Gallery is open daily 12-6 p.m. Many visitors are art aficionados, but they welcome educational groups too, like Boy Scout troops who want to come to earn their badges or school groups. Call Julie today at 317-493-8583 to plan your visit. Browse their website at cigarstoreindianstatue.com and pick out your Cigar Store Indian today. Julie and Chie will ship anywhere in the world.

About Suzanne Huntzinger

Suzanne Huntzinger has a journalism degree from IU and has lived in the Geist community for 18 years.

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