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Celebration focuses on Chesterfield’s ancient history

By CATHY LENNY

Mark Leach displays a replica of one of the artifacts found at the Chesterfield site.

Chesterfield residents didn’t have to travel far to see world-renown artists on Sept. 26. All they had to do was attend the open house at the Chesterfield Heritage Museum in Chesterfield Mall. 

About 135 people wandered through the exhibits, mingled with local celebrities and picked up souvenirs from the event such as the Chesterfield Historic and Landmark Preservation Committee’s 2020 calendar.

Local author Mark Leach was on hand to promote his latest book, “Cahokia in Chesterfield: The Sun, Moon & Milky Way.” Author of several books on local archeology, his latest tome delves into the vibrant Native American community that filled the entire Chesterfield Valley nearly 1,000 years ago. 

St. Louis was once known as Mound City and mounds stretched from Cahokia and East St. Louis to downtown and out to Chesterfield. It was a highly complex civilization that erupted on the scene, drawing thousands of people from all across the mid-continent, Leach said.

He added that it was only recently that archeologists discovered the large valley community in Chesterfield was affiliated with the capital city, which centered around St. Louis.

“Archeologists found that the community in Chesterfield was very similar to Cahokia,” Leach said.

Like Cahokia, the market center in Chesterfield was constructed to reflect important celestial alignments of the sun, moon and Milky Way. A massive “calendar of the sun,” involving temples and earthen pyramids stretched 3.56 miles across the entire valley.

“The whole valley was studied for 70 years,” Leach said. “But the sites were viewed in isolation. Once the calendar of the sun was discovered, [they realized] it was all one wide community. It was Stonehenge on a very large scale.”

These massive earthen structures were used as astrological monuments and burial grounds. Some contained thousands of burials, others served as platforms for chiefs’ residences. Many were low-lying mounds in the form of serpents, panthers and other sacred beasts.

A 7-month old dog outside a temple was found to have been buried five degrees off true north in reference to a lunar event and atop a catfish, a mountain lion and a gray wolf. It is believed that the stronger animals gave power to the little dog on its way to the afterlife, Leach said.

More than 100,000 artifacts have been discovered in Chesterfield Valley, including exotic materials from the Great Lakes and the Gulf of Mexico.

Leach held a book signing at the event with proceeds going to the Heritage Museum. Normally, profits from his books go toward the restoration of Blake Mound, which is the largest surviving burial mound in St. Louis County.

Don Wiegand, whose sculpture studio currently resides inside the museum, also attended the open house and displayed his latest work of art. Wiegand is creating a bas-relief of Pope Francis for the Vatican under the direction of the Pontifical Academy of Sciences. In bas-relief, the faces and figures have less depth than they would in full 3D image. Additionally, the sculpted elements remain attached to a solid background of the same material. 

This is not Wiegand’s first work for the Vatican. He previously created a stainless-steel sculpture of Mary, Mother of the Church and presented it to Pope John Paul II at the Vatican. He says he has been working on this latest project for two years.

Wiegand’s other sculptures are in 500 private collections throughout the U.S. and Europe. He has created works for the White House, Boston’s J.F. Kennedy Library and the Museo de America in Spain.

His works include Winston Churchill delivering his Iron Curtain speech, which resides at the Churchill Museum in Fulton; a Charles Lindbergh bust exhibited at NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston; and a bronze bust of August Busch Jr. at Busch Stadium.

Wiegand said he chooses projects that honor people who make a difference in the world. One of those is Bob Hope, who traveled the world entertaining U.S. troops for nearly 50 years. Wiegand’s Spirit of Hope award has been presented annually by the Department of Defense to individuals or organizations whose work benefits the quality of life of service members and their families.

While Wiegand’s studio is currently in the museum, there is an effort underway to restore his studio at One Wiegand Drive, its previous location in Chesterfield Valley. 

Dee Ann Wright is leading that charge. She has been affiliated with Wiegand since he started sculpting, she said. The Chesterfield Historic and Landmark Preservation Committee, along with the Heritage and Wiegand foundations, are working to preserve history, she said.

The museum is open to visitors on Friday and Saturday from 1-3 p.m. or by calling (314) 952-4725 to set an appointment.

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