The names of buildings, parks, streets, cities, and other locales change over time. Names are fickle. History plays out, is acknowledged, examined, re-written and sometimes forgotten. In America we paid homage to our Civil War with the naming of streets, towns, and holidays, as well as by erecting statues and monuments to honor those who fought on both sides. As we progressed as a nation it was inevitable that Confederate recognition would wane before becoming entirely unpalatable. Local decisions on the future and worth of these namesakes and memorials were largely following the democratic process until very recently.
The current atmosphere so quickly turned toxic and is spewing forth uncontrollable iconoclasm. Americans should be sickened when the country’s priceless artistic contributions to humankind’s historical record are ripped down, but citizens, commentators, critics, and authorities stand mute, muzzled, and neutered by fear of being labeled a racist. Consequently, immediate action is needed to preserve the tangible works of art, specifically sculpture, that is being destroyed in our country by mobs. The situation is dire as the poison of the mob has leached into destroying monuments to figures outside the Confederacy.
The President should immediately exercise his power and order local mayors and councils to board up those Confederate monuments most at risk and begin orchestrating their immediate removal to a federal site. Doing so would preserve the impressive tangible expressions of our nation’s great and continuing struggle with slavery and its legacy. A bold move now would help terminate the iconoclastic movement plaguing the country.
The executive agency tasked by Congress with preserving America’s art and history, the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation (ACHP), has demonstrated true cowardice by remaining silent while artworks topple around them. I propose that these statues and monuments be moved to a sanctuary that neither glorifies nor demeans our history and preserves this important artwork. Wilson’s Creek Battlefield in southwest Missouri is a national park and under Section 2 of the Antiquities Act, the President can enlarge its borders as needed. Using the discretionary budget allocated to the National Park Service, specifically the Historic Preservation Fund, begin procuring Confederate statues and replicas of Union statues and monuments (or originals if offered). The expense for many of these would simply be removal, shipment, and placement. Costs inevitably rise if sculptures need repairs.
Upon arrival at Wilson’s Creek, declare the sculptures and monuments as objects of historic interest under 54 U.S.C. § 320301(a). Place them thoughtfully in the enlarged park, along with submissions of contemporary sculpture and memorials that express the underlying theme of slavery, and also the smaller but important and interesting narratives in the Civil War like Clara Barton and the Massachusetts’ 54th Infantry. Expand the Visitor’s Center to house other indoor artifacts and provide education about slavery, its political and social impact, the Civil War, and the eras of Reconstruction and Reconciliation. Keep the park closed to any interior rallies or protests and protect the property under 18 U.S.C. § 1361. Of course, Congress could act to speed this up, but they lack the courage and foresight to do so.
Sculpture is the highest form of fine art and the best guarantee that the human narrative will not be lost to future generations. The monuments being toppled are worth more than reductionist pejoratives and have immense intrinsic value to posterity. Tangible and solid, sculptures exude a permanent expression of mankind’s historical record in the most authentic way. Flanked by the death of Romanticism and rise of Realism, sculpture from America’s Reconciliation period captures the romantic gallantry of a fleeting age along with the often stoic and gritty physiognomy exuberating the determination of mankind. Some of these The sculptor’s handcrafted beauty will ultimately transcend any fundraising efforts and dedication speeches. Left to its devices, that chiseled effort will survive when senescence obliterates all paintings, all papers, and all recordings, still preserving the story of America’s Civil War and Reconciliation.
Alas, it appears that there is no one brave enough to stand up for art for the sake of art. Across the globe, 10,000 years of human civilization, history, art, and culture has come under attack in a span of less than fifty years. We have intellectuals and elites who are cheering this attack instead of stepping up to combat it.
In the debates around the monumental Confederate statuary over the past five years, few if any have argued for preserving the artistic merit of these works. Context, museums, relocation, heritage – never a mention about the art itself. Congressional Republicans and conservative think tanks continue to loft losing arguments thereby exposing their complicity in this iconoclastic movement. In the irredeemable world of academia, historians and curators stand by ambivalent. But despite the fact that my generation, and the one preceding and following it, is wholly ignorant of their history and devoid of any class or culture when it comes to fine art, I do not believe this will always be the case. Therefore, the President must act now.
The ACHP should immediately proclaim that American sculpture and statuary is priceless heritage and must be preserved “to ensure that future generations continue to learn from the voices, ideas, events, and people represented.” Instead, Chairman Aimee Jorjani and her ilk produced a tepid observation on “Controversial Commemorative Works” in 2018 that displayed a lack of commitment and backbone and have since remained mute. As the destruction spread to George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Teddy Roosevelt, U.S. Grant, and Christopher Columbus, the ACHP cowers in silence while hoping their obscurity prevents anyone from reading their mission statement. Mr. President, give the ACHP twenty-four hours to come up with a legal plan to immediately save America’s artworks or fire all ten members that enjoy your executive appointment and fill those seats with individuals who actually care about historic preservation.