Visible Art, Undivided for All

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By Robert F. Murray

Art Beat Photo 1All artists in the Washington Metropolitan Area should resist any prejudicial objection to or effort to remove Appomattox from the center of Old Town Alexandria at the intersection of Washington and Prince Streets. We are not ISIS prowling about destroying all evidence of a people’s history and culture. Our sculpture was created as a serious, visible piece of fine art, be it one artist’s conception and extraordinary ability to visually portray the emotional response of surrender surrounding a noble cause, an American cause, with all its plusses and minuses.

The dedication ceremony was held on May 24, 1889, and was attended by a vast crowd. It was noted that by noon of that day, a great influx of visitors had swarmed the town of Alexandria to take part in the ceremony, which was overseen by Fitzhugh Lee, who was governor of Virginia at that time. Joseph E. Johnston, former Confederate General of the Army of Tennessee, was also in attendance. The UCV foresaw the controversy that would potentially arise over the monument. Thus, they motioned in the same year to have it protected by state law. This legal protection continues to this day.
The dedication ceremony was held on May 24, 1889, and was attended by a vast crowd. It was noted that by noon of that day, a great influx of visitors had swarmed the town of Alexandria to take part in the ceremony, which was overseen by Fitzhugh Lee, who was governor of Virginia at that time. Joseph E. Johnston, former Confederate General of the Army of Tennessee, was also in attendance. The UCV foresaw the controversy that would potentially arise over the monument. Thus, they motioned in the same year to have it protected by state law. This legal protection continues to this day.

Most every day I pass by this famous landmark reminding me to think, to grieve over other political and cultural problems that get thrown into the dumpster of the politically motivated advocators du jour. Although the sculpture’s sentiment is one of a surrender, it is an effort to portray the American  characteristic to make honest amends, to stand up for time-honored values, face the seemingly unpredictability reality of new and better times ahead.  A piece of art can carry many messages. The young man of Appomattox pauses and checks his and my own motives.

Created by sculptor M. Caspar Buberl and commissioned and erected by the Robert E. Lee Camp of the United Confederate Veterans in 1889, the form of the soldier was designed by John Adams Elder, who modeled it after a painting of the same title that shows a lone Confederate viewing the aftermath of the battle of Appomattox Court House, where Gen. Robert E. Lee ultimately surrendered to Union General Ulysses S. Grant.

Buberi captured a moment in the way of a young man, a soldier, arms crossed, shoulders slumped, head bowed, without weaponry, hat in hand, reverently moved by thoughts of the South.  This is an image of the great personal impact of loss, an ending to the witnessing of the chaos and slaughter of war. Not easy and intensely traumatic.

Appomattox is a fine work of art for our time. Its overall grayness down to its stone foundation, its aged bronze patina rightly facing South.  But the inscription on the North side of its base says it all, “They died in the consciousness of duty faithfully performed.”  Black and white men gathered in this spot in our Old Town in 1861 to march off to war.

Strange that Alexandria has so little public art given its reputation for art and artists. We have to keep what we have.

Pope Francis concluded his recent public visit to us saying, rather low-toned but reflectively, “Pray for me. Don’t forget.”  It is said that the most invisible art is public art.   Appomattox recalls all to pray for the times ahead.  Take a closer look at it the next time you’re waiting for the light to change, and witness an unforgettable masterpiece of human expression.

 

1 COMMENT

  1. I appreciate Mr. Murray’s thoughtful and mature article on historical art. I have lived in the area for 13 years and have always loved this statue. I overheard some neighbors recently suggest Alexandria should rename several streets because they are named after Confederates. At what point will we erase all of our history? Thank you for publishing this important piece.

  2. Our organization owns Appomattox. If you are interested in seeing the original plaster model submitted by John Adams Elder, please contact us at the email provided.