Big Annie concept art selected, rendering to be unveiled at June fundraising event

Sketches and a concept rendering from an artist with roots in Calumet have been selected in a local contest, bringing the community a step closer to a monument honoring one of Michigan’s most fearless labor activists – “Big Annie” — with a life-size bronze sculpture in her hometown. 

Jerome Patryjak’s drawings of Annie Klobuchar Clemenc were selected by the committee spearheading the monument project. His final rendering will be unveiled to the community at the Calumet Theatre Big Annie Gala on June 22.  

The committee is in the process of searching for a sculptor, who will create the final statue. 

National Park Service, Keweenaw NHP, C&H, Capello, Strike Album, #164Annie Clemenc stood 6-feet, 2 inches tall; her nickname, "Big Annie," referred not only to her stature but also to her efforts a century ago as an outspoken hero of the Copper Country Strike in the Upper Peninsula. The wife of a striking miner, she became a national figure as she hoisted an oversized American flag and marched for better safety and working conditions on behalf of miners during the copper strike of 1913-1914.

What’s happening: Patryjak, retired and living back in the Upper Peninsula after a career in graphic design in the Detroit area, says he responded to the monument committee’s call for artists earlier this year with a series of concept sketches and drawings.  “Along with the rendering, I included notes of my reasoning for the composition, about Annie, the miners, the children and families, and the support of the public and conflict with their adversaries,” Patryjak says. “Happily, the jury selected my rendering.”

The artist called this project a part of his personal family history of immigration, community involvement, the Copper Country Strike, action and unionization. 

Jerome Patryjak“I was interested in the project as my mother grew up in Calumet (before she) went down to Detroit to become a 'Rosie the Riveter' in World War ll,” Patryjak says. “Her mother was from Croatia and her father a miner, from Slovenia. Mom and her siblings lived in the Tamarack neighborhood of Calumet.”

Patryjak says his father is from Detroit, comes from a Polish background, and worked as a machine repairman for General Motors — where he belonged to the United Auto Workers and enjoyed union benefits. His father earned “a decent wage, bought a home for mom, and allowed for the education of their kids,” he says.

“I was interested in how all of my grandparents, as 17-to-20-year-old young people, emigrated from the Austrian-Hungarian Empire to the United States and created lives here, and worked to raise families," he says. “I noted that those early years of struggle and hardship were the time of social change, with the movement away from being subjects of an empire to becoming citizens of America, and with labor organization and community action paramount.”

When he learned of Clemenc’s story, he wondered if there was some connection with his grandmother, Theresa Perko Sunich. Born in 1882, she would have been a contemporary of Anna, just six years older. “Among the items left to me was a crocheted table doily with a tag that said it was a gift (to his grandmother) from Mary Klobuchar,” he says. “I am left with unanswered questions of those connections; those struggles and gains. My readings on Big Annie and those times in Calumet helped to color in those outlines. My inspiration for my rendering is in the defiance, concern, community and hopes of Anna and all the miners, wives and children.”

The backstory: The Big Annie Statue Fund Committee was organized to help raise funds to build a statue in Calumet to honor the activist's legacy. The Annie Statue Fund is a special project of the Keweenaw Community Foundation. 

What’s next: The committee is in the process of selecting the sculptor, a step-by-step process to find someone able to interpret Patryjak’s concept rendering along with the capability to model, cast, and install the completed statue. Patryjak’s work is an early step in the final process of erecting the bronze statue, he says. 

“The sculptor will take on the project and make it their own,” Patryjak says. “I have worked with sculpting and understand the process; each artist has to be open to the vision of the design but will need to take ownership and bring it to life.”

Fundraising: Limited tickets are available for the fundraising gala, June 22 at the Calumet Theatre, 340 6th St., Calumet. The evening begins at 5 p.m. Tickets cost $100.

In addition to the first look at the Patryjak’s rendition of the Big Annie statue, other highlights include exclusive T-shirts designed by Lynn Mazzoleni; the original song “Annie” by Penny Menze; an ethnic dinner, and an official "Big Annie" signature cocktail, created by Copper Queen and Iron Fish Distillery. Guest speaker Steve Lehto, author of “Death’s Door,” will offer stories and reflections. Guests will be invited to bid on exclusive items at a silent auction throughout the evening.

Rosemary Parker has worked as a writer and editor for more than 40 years. She is a regular contributor to Rural Innovation Exchange and other Issue Media Group publications. 
Enjoy this story? Sign up for free solutions-based reporting in your inbox each week.