Ray Moose: Finding common ground on Fame
By Ray Moose
Special to the Salisbury Post
Most people of Salisbury are familiar with the bronze statue on Innes Street called “Fame,” but few realize that it is an important sculpture from an artistic point of view. It was sculpted and casted in Belgium by Frederick Ruckstuhl.
The amount of work and expense required to produce a statue of this quality and size is immense.
After years of appreciating and studying world sculpture from Egypt to the Renaissance, I can assure you that the Salisbury sculpture is high in artistic merit and can hold its own anywhere in the world.
The design flows, with contrasting angles and lines that make it work visually, and the figures are beautifully rendered by someone that studied the human figure in depth. This is a work of art that any city in America could be proud of.
With the artistic merit and the beautiful rendering and casting comes one more statement that a work of art possesses — subject matter.
Most three-dimensional sculpture is designed to be viewed from every angle. Just as the statue is different from every angle artistically, its meaning also can be interpreted many ways. This statue is torn down the middle where its subject matter is concerned.
Someone once said that marriage is the foundation of family, family is the foundation of community and community is the foundation of civilization.
If there is one lesson I have learned in 30 years of marriage, it is that for the relationship to survive, common ground must be found in times of strife. This applies to family, community and nation. Common ground was clear and evident after 9/11 when so many on both sides came together.
Is there any common ground when it comes to Fame?
In 1619, some 20 African slaves got off of a ship at Jamestown, Va. In 1865 after 160 years under the British flag, 80 years under the American flag and four years under the Confederate flag, there were 4.3 million blacks in America.
The pain, loss and suffering endured by the ancestors of African-Americans has left scars in that community, overwhelming the beauty of the statue and exposing an ugly side seen through a lens of heartache and resentment.
Torn from their country of origin and forced into slavery, black Africans became a commodity to a culture that thought of themselves as superior and saw the Africans as unhuman. For approximately 240 years, slaves were exploited for capital gain and forced to endure hardship and hard work.
But there were beautiful sounds flowing out of the fields all over the South, sounds of song that were to become the foundation of a profound spiritual movement and love for God. Sounds that would evolve into sophisticated music to grace concert halls the world over. Through its cruel hand, slavery created a unique African-American culture unlike any in the world. This changed the course of America, as African-Americans have contributed much and continue to do so.
The narrative of this long, hard story reminds one of the Old Testament, with prophets and people of wisdom coming forth to deliver their people up and out of bondage, but at the same time populating America with a people that enriched and diversified her destiny.
Joel Kotkin of Chapman University in California wrote in Forbes that the 10 cities where blacks are doing the best are in the South, while the cities where they are struggling the most are elsewhere. He noted that a large population of African-Americans left the South in the first half of the 20th century, but their descendants are returning, along with others whose ancestors were born in other parts of the country.
Is there commonality in the American South between blacks and whites? I once heard an African-American woman who had moved back from up North interviewed on the radio. She referred to the South as the “Mother South.” She recognized the problems and spoke on them, but the thing that she cited most is, “The South has changed; it is not the same place.”
Can we find common ground in a past that holds so much pain? Apparently, people are betting that we can, and willing to take the chance.
Black and white Southerners do not share the same experience, but we do share the same history and many of the same traits because we have simply been together for so long.
The Fame statue, unlike many others concerning that war, has a quality that deserves noting. A dying soldier. Death is an end, not a beginning. This symbolism can be interpreted in several ways and is fluid in that regard, just as art itself is. The act is not always the same as the outcome.
The statue also represents the end of an era, the end of a time period.
Seen from this angle, it takes on expanded meaning and could possibility open the door to a shared understanding. This, in my opinion fits the definition of a city looking to the future, and one that is daring enough to step into that shared area called “common ground.”
Let us add art that tells everyone’s story, not take it away.
The laurel wreath of peace that the angel offers is not for a select few, but for everyone.
I present two proposals:
1. That Salisbury select a prominent place on city property with equal view and exposure as the existing statue and work with the African-American community to select a sculptor of high skill to create a statue that everyone can be proud of — a statue of equal or higher artistic merit and beauty that tells the story that needs to be told of a long, hard road to citizenship by a unique group of Americans.
2. That the text on the front of the statue be altered to include the expanded awareness of the angel as universal, and the death to symbolize not only the Confederate soldiers of Rowan County but also a new beginning for all.