A Sculptor’s Lawsuit Against Kevin Costner Over Artwork She Created for His Planned Luxury Resort Will Finally Go to Trial

The South Dakota Supreme Court has ruled in the artist's favor in her lengthy legal battle with the Hollywood actor.

Kevin Costner attends the 2023 Pre-Grammy Gala in Beverly Hills, California. Photo: Jeff Kravitz/FilmMagic.

A lengthy legal battle between Hollywood actor Kevin Costner and sculptor Peggy Detmers will go ahead, it was decided last week by the South Dakota Supreme Court. The artist’s attempts to compel Costner to sell her artwork, which he commissioned, and allow her to recover the copyright had previously been dismissed, according to Courthouse News.

Costner commissioned Detmers to produce Lakota Bison Jump in the early 1990s for The Dunbar, a luxury resort he had hoped to found near Deadwood in South Dakota. The larger-than-life outdoor sculptural installation features three Lakota warriors on horseback chasing a herd of 14 buffalo off a cliff. In return for the mammoth undertaking, Detmers was offered a fee of $300,000 and royalties from reproductions of the sculpture sold by The Dunbar.

Costner’s plans for the resort met significant resistance from local Lakota People, who were also unhappy for their land to be used for Lakota Bison Jump. Detmers temporarily ceased work on the mighty bronze sculpture in 2000, until Costner offered her an additional $60,000 and a new deal, agreeing that if The Dunbar did not materialize within 10 years and the artwork was not yet “agreeably displayed elsewhere,” he would sell it and split the profits with Detmers. She would also get the copyright.

When The Dunbar fell through, Costner instead used the land to establish Ta’Tanka: Story of the Bison, a tourist stop featuring Detmers’ sculpture among other attractions. In line with their agreement, the artist continues to receive royalties for gift shop reproductions but, in 2008, she sued Costner in the hopes that he could be made to sell the sculpture.

The circuit court ruled against Detmers, finding that Ta’Tanka counted as the sculpture being reinstalled “elsewhere.” A subsequent appeal in 2012 was dismissed by the South Dakota Supreme Court.

The case appeared to be closed until 2021, when Costner decided to sell Ta’Tanka but keep and relocate Lakota Bison Jump.

Detmers’s claim that Costner would need to sell the sculpture if he sold the property was originally dismissed by a circuit court but, in a surprise move, the four-judge supreme court has now sided with Detmers due to an apparent misreading of the grammar in her contract with Costner. The lower court had erroneously understood the terms as only requiring the actor to have the work “agreeably displayed elsewhere” for 10 years. Detmers’ latest lawsuit can now proceed to trial at Lawrence County’s circuit court.

“Peggy is pleased with the decision confirming her rights in the display of the sculptures she spent six years creating,” Detmers’s attorney Andy Damgaard said in a statement to Artnet News. 

Artnet News has reached out to Costner’s lawyers for comment but did not hear back at press time.

Costner’s multi-decade career has included leading roles in films like crime drama The Untouchables (1987) and the epic western Dances with Wolves (1990), which he also produced and directed.


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