TULLAHOMA, Tenn. (WKRN) – You wouldn’t expect to find a piece of the South Pacific in landlocked Tennessee, but one Tennessee city has just that.
Tullahoma, located at the edge of the Highland Rim, is the home of several replica Moai head statues. They stand dozens of feet tall along the CSX railroad that passes through the community, somberly staring straight ahead.
The heads, an iconic discovery of Easter Island in the South Pacific Ocean and housed in museums around the world, have been recreated by Tullahoma artist Steve Smith.
Smith is semi-retired and works on art in his spare time – particularly sculptures. In about a year and a half, he created six replica Easter Island Moai heads with plans to add another one soon. His replica Moai began as a home garden decoration and have grown in popularity and size ever since.
“I started to do small ones for gardens,” he said. “I was going to do small ones for people’s gardens, and someone told me, ‘Why don’t you do a large one, like the ones on Easter Island?’”
The first two he created were posted up one year at the Manchester-Coffee County Conference Center during Bonnaroo Music and Arts Festival.
Eventually, he moved them to their current home next to the railroad tracks.
“I decided to do them there, that way I could kind of take care of them and watch them,” he said.
As with any public art installation, vandalism is a concern for Smith, prompting him to place security cameras around the statues. Mostly, Smith said people enjoy the statues. He even created a more human-sized statue with a hole in the face for photo opportunities for the visitors.
“They love it. The kids like them. They have a lot of fun with that,” he said.
The number of visitors can reach up to 30 per day, Smith said, including adults and children who take advantage of the small statue regularly.
It takes about a week for Smith to create one of the replica heads, given their size. He even has a special cart he uses to move them from his shop to the site when they’re complete.
The real challenge, he said, is affording the materials.
“The cost of it is very expensive,” he said.
The raw materials can cost thousands of dollars depending on the size of the statue, even though they are hollow on the inside, unlike the actual statues found on Easter Island.
To that end, Smith has a small sign posted by the statues with his Venmo link for those who want to help fund the creation and maintenance of the statues.
Those donations, plus his own money, will eventually go toward the creation of a seventh and final replica, as well as an informational poster about the history of the Moai and the Rapa Nui people, who are thought to have created the heads.
He even has plans to create more replica stone creations, including Stonehenge.
To see the replica Moai heads for yourself, head down to Tullahoma off I-24. The heads can be seen at 103 Marbury Road.
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