Wednesday, December 12, 2012

The Defense of the Flag and Lorado Taft

Back on November 5, I wrote about the Soldiers and Sailors Memorial in Gloversville, New York which I had discovered while visiting there last August. James Morrison, of the Gloversville Historian’s Office, was able to give me the memorial’s correct name and when it was erected but he had no more information about it. The only information offered by the memorial itself were the foundry markings for Gorham Founders. Following up the lead offered by markings on the base of the memorial, I visited the Smithsonian Museum of American Art’s collection of the Gorham Foundry’s papers, but these records shed no further light on the sculptor’s identity nor offered any further leads to pursue.

I’ve read that many of the world’s greatest discoveries resulted from accidents – either in a laboratory or as the human race moved about the surface of the planet looking for something else entirely different from what it actually found. Sometimes, it’s that way in tracking down this kind of information as well. Yesterday, I visited one of my favorite local book stores in Washington DC (something my wife often dreads – with good reason, yesterday was big day for me there!), Second StoryBooks. In their specially priced-to- move bins on the sidewalk (bringing up memories of Paris and Moscow), I came across a copy of “The Public Art of CivilWar Commemoration, A Brief History with Documents” by Thomas J. Brown of the University of South Carolina.

Given my interest in the Civil War and in how we use public space and public monuments to commemorate our history, especially our military history, I plucked this out of the bin and begin my usual quick examination – pictures? bibliography? blurb? author’s bio and credentials? – all factors contributing to a buy or do not buy decision. And there from page 34 jumps out a picture of the Gloversville monument – except the caption says that it’s located in Jackson, Michigan. Furthermore, it identifies the sculptor as LoradoTaft whose Wikipedia biography includes a link to a photograph of the Michigan monument which according to Brown dates from the 1894-1904 period. The proper title of the three figure grouping is “The Defense of the Flag” – very appropriate. Thus, through the intervention so to speak of the universe or simply chance, we now know the sculptor, the title of the work, and that it is not unique but one of at least two copies on public display.

(If you are also interested in further examination and discussion of how we use public spaces you may be interested in Sue Mosher’s Placekeepers website and blog which focus upon the sacred uses of space.)