5 min read
Posted on 04.08.14
  • 5 min read
  • Posted on 04.08.14

Erecting a statue to someone is among the highest forms of civic recognition - indeed, it is an homage. Within St. Louis's civic venues, including its 111 municipal parks, covering 3250 acres, stand dozens of statues and sculptures of historic figures. Those represented include:

Enos Slaughter, James "Cool Papa" Bell, Bob Gibson, Friederich Schiller, Jack Buck, George Sisler, Lou Brock, Ozzie Smith, Pierre Laclede, Red Schoendienst, Rogers Hornsby, Leon Strauss, Bernie Federko, Al MacInnis and Brett Hull, August A. Busch, Jr., two Zoo directors, Charles H. Hoessle and George Philip Vierheller, Francis Preston Blair, Jr. (he helped keep Missouri from seceding from the Union), Friedrich Ludwig Jahn (early promoter of physical fitness) and General Franz Sigel (best known for helping lead German Revolution of 1848-49).

We have two Stan Musial statues.

Statues of two presidents, Thomas Jefferson and U.S. Grant, sit and stand tall, respectively.

The statute of an animated Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.,  can be seen sermonizing in Fountain Park.

A bust of legendary St. Louis Alderman Albert "Red" Villa can be found in the triangular pocket park formed by the intersection of Virginia and Ivory Streets.

Tower Grove Park focuses on the European canon, with statues and busts of Shakespeare, Wagner, Verdi, Mozart, Rossini, Gounod, Beethoven, Columbus, and lesser-known Prussians, Alexander von Humboldt and Friedrich Wilhelm von Steuben.

The Botanical Garden sculptural portraiture, meanwhile, hews closely to the institution's historic scientific mission, featuring representations of Henry Shaw, George Washington Carver, Carl Linnaeus (Swedish botanist, physician, zoologist, credited with creating the foundation for naming and classifying organisms), and George Engelmann (19th century German-American botanist and leading figure in the progress of science in St. Louis).

Then, of course, astride the horse at the crest of Art Hill, is the apotheosis of this city's canonized name giver: Saint Louis, King of France.

But, if you are looking for statuary of historic St. Louis women in our city parks, you will search mostly in vain.

A few pop up in other parts of town.

A head of St. Louisan Edna Fischel Gellhorn - a highly accomplished advocate for women's suffrage and social welfare (and mother of Martha) - sits in Washington University's Law Library.The Missouri History Museum tells us it has four sculptures of notable women with St. Louis connections, including a bust of Nettie Beauregard, the first archivist of the Missouri Historical Society, a bust of Frances Meyer, wife of Christian Meyer founder of Meyer Brothers Drug Company of St. Louis, and a bust of Ann Morrow Lindbergh. Sacagawea is included in its Lewis and Clark statue.

A head of writer Kate Chopin is situated at Euclid and McPherson, part of a burst of literary statuary in the city's central corridor that includes busts of T.S. Elliott and Tennessee Williams in the Central West End, and full statues of Robert Frost, at St. Louis University, and the Ploughman Poet, Robbie Burns, at Washington University Brookings Hall.

More typically, when a woman appears in St. Louis statuary, it's as allegory, and, not infrequently, semi-naked.

(To serve as allegory, by the way, is not necessarily to be short-changed. If you doubt this, take a trip to Liberty Island in New York Harbor.)

The Missouri River, for example, is represented in female form in the "Meeting of the Waters" at Aloe Plaza. Peace and Vigilance sit atop the portal of the Old Post Office. Painting and Sculpture grace the edifice of the Palace of Fine Arts. On the steps of the Carnahan Courthouse appear two imposing women, one representing Law and Order and the other, Equal Justice. Winged Victory appears on the flagpole pedestal at 12th and Market that serves as the Spanish-American War Memorial, with Loyalty and Vision standing outside the Soldier's Memorial. Go to Compton Hill Reservoir and prepare to witness The Naked Truth.

There's one shining exception to the record of omission. Thanks to the National Park Service, it goes a long way toward redeeming St. Louis.

Situated outside the Old Courthouse is sensitive and beautiful statuary portraiture of Harriet Scott, standing hand-in-hand with her husband, Dred Scott.

Harriett Scott offers clues for how St. Louis might better celebrate historic St. Louis women through public statuary.

What makes her so compelling a figure and so worthy of public statuary is not her celebrity. To the contrary, most people would be a loss to recall her name. Rather, it is her singularity and connection to the community.

Harriet Robinson Scott is of St. Louis. She endured and survived slavery here. Along with her husband Dred, she sued for their freedom.

Her presence and heroic perseverance are soaring inspirations. The physical representation of her bearing and dignity, standing with her husband alongside actual steps on which slaves had been sold, serve as a much-needed reproach to the unthinkable inhumanity that is part of our history.

Another historic local figure memorialized in compelling sculpture also is suggestive. Annie Louise Keller was not a St. Louisan. She was from White Hall, Illinois, about 65 miles north of St. Louis. She was a school teacher. In 1927, at the age of 25, she died protecting her young students, all of whom survived, when a tornado struck. A compelling monument was erected to her memory, by her home town.

Perhaps a practical physical test emerges from these examples, one that would help us discern whether a prospect for civic statuary has the singularity required to withstand the test of time:

When standing before such a sculptural portrait, might you be so moved by the sacrifice or contribution of its subject that you instinctively would bow your head in reverence? Or, nod your head, as part of an irresistible gesture of approval and celebration, as if to say, "bravo," and "thanks" for giving so much to this community and representing it so well!

Maybe, in other words, female subjects of historic St. Louis statues could be doubly distinguished by the thoughtfulness with which they are selected. 

(The photo included is A life-size bronze figure of Harriet and Dred Scott rests atop a black granite base outside the Old Courthouse, downtown.)