1,100 pounds of bronze: Charlottesville seeks to turn Lee statue into new work of art – The Cavalier Daily

Nearly four years after violence at ‘Unite the Right’ rally, Charlottesville City Council deleted the statue of Robert E. Lee standing in the center of Charlottesville’s Emancipation Park – now the community is now wrestling with the question of what should happen to those 1,100 pounds of bronze.

Advice approved the Jefferson School African American Heritage Center’s “Swords into Plowshares” proposal to melt down the piece and create a new work of art with the metal last December. JSAAHC began in 1865 and continues today as a Black Heritage Center.

As was the case with the 73 Confederate monuments deleted or renamed to Southern cities in 2021, Charlottesville now faces the effort to replace the statue with a structure that both combats the racism of the past and represents a new way forward.

The statue of Lee, a former Confederate army commander, was erected in 1924 after being gifted to the city by Paul McIntire, a prominent philanthropist and namesake of the university’s McIntire School of Business, McIntire Amphitheater, and McIntire Department of Art. Designed by American artist Henry Merwin Shrady and Italian sculptor Leo Lentelli, the bronze piece Featured the general riding triumphantly on horseback. Confederate veterans gathered for the unveiling of the statue, which also featured a speech from university president Edwin Alderman.

After years of litigation and advocacy efforts by community members and students – including petition by Zyahna Bryant, current fourth-year college student – the Supreme Court of Virginia approved the removal of the statue in April 2021, ruling that monuments to Confederate leaders are not protected by state law. The City removed Lee’s statue on July 10 of that year.

Following the removal of the piece, the City was faced with a new question: what would happen to the statue itself?

After considering six different proposals, the Council chose JSAAHC’s plan to melt down the monument, using the raw materials to create a new work of art.

The project — titled “Plowshare Swords– aims to gather community feedback in order to design a piece that represents the beliefs and current needs of the city itself.

Professor Jalane Schmidt, project ambassador and director of the university’s memory project, contrasted the planning process with that of Lee’s original statue.

The Memory Project is an initiative that combines interdisciplinary fields with the goal of “examining how we think about the past and how we use it to shape the future,” according to the group. website.

“It’s up to the community to decide…because it’s the opposite of what happened 200 years ago,” Schmidt said. “We would like, in the future, this community to be known for having democratic processes that inform our public spaces and the art in them.”

After reviewing feedback, JSAAHC hopes to select an artist for the project by 2024.

The JSAAHC plan is not without its challenges. The city currently faces a lawsuit filed by a plantation museum and a Civil War battlefield who want the statue repurposed as a Civil War cannon instead of handing over control to JSAAHC. When asked about the suit, Schmidt simply said that answer is what happens when you “push the bear”.

Community organizer Kendall King, curator of an exhibit at the University’s Special Collections Library titled ‘No Unity Without Justice’, highlighted the importance of art in community development five years after the rally . King was one of the counter-protesters who hugged the statue of Jefferson on the north side of the rotunda when white supremacists parade at Grounds on the night of August 11, 2017.

“I just hope this inspires people and students to come together and keep that momentum behind the movement and community building,” King said.

After the Civil War ended, proponents of the “lost cause” ideology built hundreds of similar public works in honor of Confederate leaders. The ideology of the lost cause tries to Frame the South in a positive light, celebrating the prewar South and serving as a foundation for racial violence.

In the former Confederate capital of Richmond, a huge statue of Lee on horseback has been unveiled in 1890 in front of a crowd of over 100,000 people. Later in 1907, the city also honored Confederate General JEB Stuart with a 22 foot bronze statue.

In 2012, Charlottesville City Council member Kristen Szakos was one of the first voices in Charlottesville to publicly question the presence of Confederate statues in the city.

Regards from Szakos aroused violent reactions from many members of the community, including death threats.

“I felt like I put a stick in the ground, and some kind of ugly thing was bubbling out of it,” Szakos said in a statement at the New York Times.

Despite public opposition supporters who have argued that the Lee statue has historical value, the Charlottesville City Council established a Blue Ribbon Commission on Race, Memorials and Public Spaces in 2016. The Commission served as an advisory group to review and make a recommendation on the relocation or alteration of the Lee statue. The council then voted to withdraw the piece – a move that prompted a court Case of a group of Charlottesville residents to find out if the city had the right to do so.

In the midst of legal proceedings, the events of August 11 and 12, 2017 sets off national debate over the future of the Lee statue. white supremacists reunited at the University on August 11 waving torches and shouting racist, anti-Semitic and homophobic chants to protest the removal of Lee’s statue from Emancipation Park. The next day, the “Unite the Right” protest turned violentand white supremacist James Fields drove a car through a crowd of counter-protesters – injuring 19 people and killing Charlottesville resident Heather Heyer.

Schmidt cited Heyer’s death as a major turning point in public opinion of Lee’s statue.

“People who had not been so educated on the matter or who passively preferred to keep [the statue] or thought ‘what’s wrong?’ or whatever, the scales kind of fell off their eyes,” Schmidt said. “They could just see that this [statue] is something that really appeals to white supremacist elements.

As for the Lee statue itself, King has heard a number of interesting proposals for cast bronze. She mentioned proposals for art as abstract as bronze drops to a 24/7 publicly accessible restroom, or even a children’s playground.

For King, the most important criterion for the project is that the new form of bronze serves the community.

“Using this bronze specifically to transfer it into welcoming, acceptable, and good civic things for children and adults — like things that really get people to, like, spend healthy, constructive, positive time together in a public space — I think that would be a really cool way for this project to manifest,” King said.

Whatever happens to those thousands of books of bronze, Romero hopes that a community with such a heavy history can find lightness in art.

“Now is the time for many of us to find justice and healing through art,” Romero said. “And it is no longer up to us to preserve anything. It is now our duty to continue to tear it down and find ways to heal through our art institute in a way that appeals to multiple generations and people of all ages and walks of life.

As part of her mission for more informed art, Schmidt – alongside community members Kendall King, Natalie Romero, and Hannah-Russell-Hunter – also curated an exhibit in the university’s Special Collections Library titled ” No unity without justice”. The exhibit features the work of Charlottesville students and racial justice activists who organized protests and events in response to the “Unite the Right” rally and will run through October 29.

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