by Frank R. Shaw, FSA Scot, Dawsonville, GA, USA
In last week’s article, I
wrote about the Robert Burns statue in Chicago’s Garfield Park and of my
reaction to the missing bronze plaques. Our editor, Alastair McIntyre,
asked for any input you might have regarding the statue, and my thanks
for the responses - I appreciate hearing from you.
John Hollingsworth of
Clan Thom(p)son Society was kind enough to send me an article from
The New York Times dated November 20, 1892, along with two
photographs. His commentary dealt with the ten-foot bronze statue to be
unveiled during the 1893 World’s Fair and is described below.
The design represents
the poet standing, bareheaded, and musing over some fancy which has
apparently just come to him while at work. The pose of the figure is
easy and graceful, and all the details are carefully worked out. The
head is modeled after that in Nasmyth’s portrait, the only one for
which the poet sat so far as is known. The statue represents no new
features, and aims to be merely a reproduction in bronze of
Nasmyth’s picture, with the addition of a few technical details.
The statue is to
stand on a pedestal of Scotch and America granite, 12 feet in
height, and in its main division four bronze panels will be inserted
showing scenes from the life or works of the poet, the exact themes
not having yet been selected.
Mr. Stevenson, the
sculptor of the Chicago statue, has won much praise in Scottish
artistic circles for the figure of Burns he contributed many years
ago to the memorial structure at Kilmarnock, Scotland.
Over the weekend I heard from
my Scottish friend and fellow Burnsian, Clark McGinn who resides in London
and is the immediate past-president of the London Burns Club. Clark asked if
I had spoken with Gus Noble, president of the Illinois Saint Andrew Society,
and went on to mention that “last year we (he and Noble) were talking on
this very subject and I think that, but for the financial crises, they would
have replaced the panels. I am sure Gus has more background.” I replied to
Clark that I had already emailed Gus Noble and was waiting for his reply.
The email from Gus came this
past Monday and confirmed, “Yes, a sad story which goes back to the War –
when the plaques were stolen.” Gus went on to say, “I’m in discussions with
the School of Art Institute of Chicago about whether it might be possible to
go to Milwaukee, take a cast of their plaques, and manufacture new ones for
our statue…or perhaps even a new design.”
As a side note, the Illinois
Saint Andrew Society sponsors The Scottish Home in North Riverside,
Illinois, an intermediate care facility for the elderly. This commitment
shows the charitable nature of our fellow Scots in Illinois, and we should
all be as generous in our benevolent work. While we may not be able to fund
a nursing facility for our elderly, we do need to join them in working to
replace the missing plaques on the historic statue of Burns that is now over
a hundred years old. Whoever stole the plaques during the War probably sold
them as scrap metal. Back in the 1970s, before the modern soap dispensers
were introduced, there was a brief soap shortage in the Atlanta area. At our
elderly facility, bars of Ivory soap were put out on an “as needed” basis
but they quickly began to disappear. I came up with the idea of putting a
sign by each soap holder that read, “He who steals my soap will always have
dirty hands!” Yes, the bars of Ivory soon stopped disappearing. As to the
person(s) who stole the plaques from the Burns statue, no matter how many
times they have washed their hands since, if they are still alive, they
still have dirty hands.
I let Gus know that some of
us would be willing to make a donation to the cost of the plaques at the
appropriate time and that I would be willing to ask you, our readers, to do
the same. Scots are great when it is time to come forward to help with a
needy project, and this is certainly one that qualifies. It is ironic that
the other vandalized statue mentioned in last week’s article (the memorial
and statue in Kilmarnock) was also the work of the same sculptor, William
Grant Stevenson. The good folks in Scotland put that one back together even
better than it was and we can do the same! Now, let’s see how long before we
can restore the lost luster to this handsome statue in Chicago. I’m asking
Gus to let us know when donations might be made for the missing plaques.
I recently won on eBay the
attached postcard which shows an old image of the Garfield Park statue. The
postcard is dated October, 1910 and mailed from Chicago to Mrs. F. R.
Denton, in Denton, Nebraska. The plaques, still in place, are as beautiful
as ever. I do not know what the lettering at the bottom of the plinth is,
graffiti maybe, but I do not recall seeing it last week in Chicago.
Interestingly, the only message on the postcard was this phrase, and
ironically the date on the bottom of the plinth is October 16, 1910, the
same month and year this card was postmarked. (FRS: 10.15.09)