by Max Brantley
We hope to have a photograph of this bit of now-removed Christmas decoration before long, but we wanted to tell Capitol passersby as quickly as possible:
The Secretary of State's office did not put the Santa Claus hats on the heads of the sculptures of the Little Rock Nine on the north lawn of the state Capitol, a spokesman for the office says.
The bronzes were adorned with the brand new hats and had stuffed animals and felt poinsettias tucked into their arms early this morning. John Deering sculpted the work.
Spokesman Natasha Naragon said the office was looking into who did the decorating. The hats are in the secretary of state's office if anyone wants to come forward to claim them. The Vietnam War Memorial and Civil War statuary, among others, escaped the Christmas decorating.
(That headline: Kelly Bryant was the secretary of state who had the bright idea of taking cleaner to Capitol grounds statuary to polish it up, thereby removing decades of the desirable patina.)
UPDATE: The artist, John Deering, provides an interesting response that causes us to do a little rethinking on this, too.
The good thing is, that's removable (while a bad polishing job is not). The owner of a bronze foundry in Memphis that I used to work with had a healthy attitude about public sculpture. My Vietnam Veterans Statue was being assembled and someone asked "What if a bird builds a nest in the soldier's helmet?' The foundry guy said " Now THAT would be cool". People have left flowers, notes and champagne glasses at that statue, and flowers draped over Elizabeth Eckford's statue in the last few months.
Public art is just that - public. What the Memphis foundry owner showed me was an attitude about the functionality of public art. The nine figures, because of whom they represent, should be treated with respect. As public art, it's also important for the community to feel connected to the piece. While people express themselves in different ways, I hope the Santa hats and teddy bears were placed there in the same spirit as the flowers.
By the way, I remembered a minute ago that the foundry I use now, Shidoni in Santa Fe....... They have a bronze bust somebody did of the foundry owner, Tommy Hicks. A striking man with a totally bald head, goatee and horn rimmed glasses. Every year around Christmas that I've been out there, there is, you guessed it, a Santa hat on the bust!