Ishi in the roundabout

Local chiropractor spearheads visionary project to create monument to Ishi

Deborah Penner

Deborah Penner

photo by Christine G.K. LaPado

To support the cause: Go to to add your name to the “Support the Ishi Statue Project in Chico, CA” Facebook “Causes” page.

In August 2009, city officials held a public workshop at which they introduced a plan to change First and Second streets into one-ways downtown. Included in the discussion of the Second Street Couplet project was the idea of a roundabout at the five-way intersection next to the Chico News & Review office.

It was at this meeting that Deborah Penner—whose Chico Creek Wellness office also sits at the intersection—went on record saying that she would “love to see a 12-foot-tall bronze statue of Ishi right there in the middle of that roundabout” (see “The Second Street Couplet,” CN&R, Aug. 27, 2009).

Fast forward: The roundabout project is moving forward, and so is Penner with her effort to erect a monument to Ishi in the center of that roundabout.

Why Ishi?

“I went to bed at night with a feeling of agitation about a roundabout at my front door,” Penner recalled recently, referring to the emotions she experienced the night before the August 2009 meeting. “I woke up at 4 in the morning with a powerful vision of Ishi stepping down a columnar basalt staircase—and an incredible feeling of peace. … It was like this big aha moment.”

While there are two monuments to Ishi in Oroville—a mural in Bicentennial Park and a simple marker off of Oro Quincy Highway near where he originally emerged from the wilderness—there is no public art in Chico honoring Ishi, arguably the most famous historical figure to come out of this area.

Penner said she envisions something similar to the bronze likeness of Chief PeoPeoMoxMox (Yellow Bird) in Walla Walla, Wash., erected in June 2005 and designed by Oregon-based Chickasaw artist Roger McGee.

Confused after being told by a member of the Arts Commission that the commission had “no control” over capital-improvement art projects (those dealing with bridges and roads), and finding on the city’s website two versions of public-art policy, Penner recently contacted Chico Mayor Ann Schwab.

Schwab arranged an April 6 meeting with Penner, various city officials, and three of Penner’s supporters. At the meeting, Penner learned that the city had already hired an artist/consultant from Napa named Gordon Huether regarding the possibilities for public art in the roundabout.

However, Penner said she was assured that the choice of art for the location was not a done deal, and that her Ishi concept is in the running: “[Senior Civil Engineer] Bob Greenlaw said, over and over, ‘If you create a broad community support for this concept and you bring it to us, we will hear you.’ ”

Penner said that she was also told that the city did not have the money to fund the project, but “will not turn down donated art.”

She said she recently spoke with Ali Knight, secretary of the local Mechoopda Maidu tribe, asking her if she “wanted to be part of a community dialogue in creating some downtown art that really speaks to Native American history,” said Penner. She said Knight was “excited about the general idea.”

Knight recently commented that she “hop[es] that this project progresses a bit further in historical accuracy,” if the Mechoopda are to be included.

Penner is in the process of securing the broad-based support and funding needed for the proposed project, which she anticipates will cost around $100,000 for the statue alone. She is shooting for a July date to unveil her fully fleshed-out plan to the Arts Commission. (Penner said she was advised at the April 6 meeting that even if the city’s capital-projects design team approved of the art, the commission’s support would be desirable).

Penner recently spoke with McGee, who she said is “starting on a concept—a sketch and a model—at no charge, he’s so into it.”