Gaetano Trentanove was born in Florence, Italy, on Feb. 21, 1858. A student of the Florentine Academy, his first work received a gold medal from The Society for the Promotion of Fine Art in Turin. Friendships formed in Paris would lead him to opening a studio in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, and eventually securing American citizenship.
A renowned sculptor of his time, his works include the marble statue “Last of the Spartans” for the World's Columbian Exposition of 1893, Father Jacques Marquette in the National Statuary Hall in the U.S. Capitol, and the Soldiers' Monument (a tribute to Wisconsinites who fought for the Union during the Civil War) in Oshkosh, Wisconsin.
He also was the man behind the statue of Brig. Gen. Albert Pike that had stood for more than a century in Judiciary Square, Washington, D.C., until rioters ripped it down on June 19.
According to the Chicago Park District's website, “Daniel Chester French (1850-1931) was one of America’s most celebrated early 20th century artists. His most famous sculptures include the seated Abraham Lincoln at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C.; the Minute Man in Concord, Massachusetts; and Chicago’s Statue of the Republic."
Commissioned by the Daughters of the American Revolution as a gift for the French government, he collaborated with fellow artist Edward Clark Potter to forge a statue of Gen. George Washington mounted on a horse that was unveiled at the Place d’Iéna in Paris on July 3, 1900. So magnificent was the piece that two years later, prominent Chicagoans asked to install a replica in Washington Park. In 1904, the statue was placed on its base and the site officially designated as Washington Monument Square.
On the morning of June 14, Chicago police discovered a white Ku Klux Klan hood had been placed over Washington's head with the words “burn down the White House” and “slave owner” in red spray paint defacing the monument base.
Latisha Jensen, writing in the Willamette Week on June 20, reported: “On June 14, a group of about 15 people used ropes and an ax to topple a statue of Thomas Jefferson that stood on the front steps of Jefferson High School in North Portland.”
Jensen interviewed one of the vandals, “a 33-year-old white Portlander who happened upon the statue's removal by accident.” The vandal told her, "We were doing this thing that should've been done, that people in charge aren't doing." (Ironically the subject would only talk on the condition of anonymity for fear of being arrested.)
On the subsequent toppling of a George Washington statue days later, Mr. Anonymous opined: “I feel like I understand when people are upset about it. ... But it's also a good thing it's happening. We no longer want to let those things just exist out in the open.”
I don't know who “we” is, but I'm certainly not one of them.
His thoughts on Mount Rushmore are quite revealing: “Mount Rushmore is another travesty itself. It doesn't matter they carved into those mountains ... they will forever be desecrated.”
Mount Rushmore a “travesty?" I wonder if he'd accept a one-way ticket to Venezuela?
When asked if he'd attended protests since, he replied, “I've been living at the coast. I have been driving in so haven't been able to be there as much as I want. I'm just raking in unemployment, so I might as well have the government pay me to dismantle themselves.”
The coward doesn't even live in the city that he vandalized but somehow thinks he's the righteous one.
How many more of these parasites are out there? We can never know, but no doubt there are a lot more than we think.
The murder of George Floyd at the knee of a Minneapolis police officer sparked a long overdue debate on the issue of race in America. It also lit a wave of rioting and violence that has destroyed an untold number of innocent lives, with a death toll that is still rising.
Those taking it upon themselves to topple statues and destroy history aren't warriors for justice. They're cowards of the worst order.
Each and every piece destroyed was crafted and sculpted by someone, be it one of the greats such as Trentanove, French or Potter or a local artist from the community of his or her time. Behind every object destroyed is the legacy of the artist who created it.
This is not an endorsement of “everything stays." Certainly some statues should be removed from the public square. Key word “removed” — not “destroyed."
And such should be done not in the dead of night but in the light of public debate with a full discussion of the time, the history and the context of who, what, when and why.
Only then can wounds begin to heal and those first stones on the path to a truly unified future at last be laid.
Geoff Caldwell lives in Joplin. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.