I guess one could say that I’m somewhat of a sentimentalist. I like monuments and memorials. I like some of them for their appearance, while others I like for what they represent. The best ones combine both..
What are these things anyway if not a record, a physical reminder of something important?
We artists, in a sense, are in the business of creating memorials…records of our impressions, experiences, memories and ideas. We help others to see things that they may have taken for granted, or to show them things they have never seen. By creating a visual record, we give the subject importance. We memorialize what we saw, what we remember, what we felt, and what we want others to remember or take notice of. Sometimes we take the ideas of others and transform them into a beautiful, clearly communicated physical reality. Other times the concept and its ultimate manifestation find their origins in the artist alone.
A memorial is at its best when it is beautifully executed and expresses a great truth. The key word here being Truth. I think the National Monument to the Forefathers in Plymouth, MA is one such memorial. I went to Plymouth several years ago for the sole purpose of seeing this monument. It brought me to tears. It powerfully represents core beliefs of our nation’s founders and is also beautifully executed.
As we celebrate this Memorial Day and consider those that gave their lives to establish this nation, and to keep it, I admit I am somewhat sentimental when it comes to thoughts of our nation. This amazing monument does not help dispel those sentiments. When one compares the core values of our nation at the time this monument was created with those of today, it makes me sad. To be honest, if this same memorial were proposed today the outcry raised against it would be so great and venomous, it would never see the light of day. What has changed? Why are memorials around the country, representing our Christian roots, being removed or defaced? Why are they hated so? I think it’s because they represent and remind us of things we want to forget, things we want completely erased from our true history.
The idea for this monument was first proposed in 1794 in memory of the Pilgrims. For many reasons the actual completion and dedication did not take place until 1889, but on that day-long celebration, William C.P. Breckinridge, Congressman from Kentucky, offered the following impassioned prayer. Can you imagine this prayer being prayed in a public square today?
“In the name of God, Amen. In the name of the Fathers we dedicate this monument and ourselves. For ages it will stand the enduring witness to grave and resolute conduct; to privations and sacrifices; to thrift and frugality; to domestic love and unaffected piety; to rectitude in thought as well as in life; to earnest principles and true beliefs; to Christian fidelity and faith…here and now we rededicate ourselves to a more fervent love for man as man; to a braver allegiance to truth for truth’s sake, and this ‘in the name of God’; and Amen and Amen!”
Thanks to the brilliant work of artist Hammett Billings, architect, sculpture, painter, and illustrator, he gave form and substance to a belief, a truth which I believe America has carelessly abandoned. For those that care, this memorial convicts us daily of our forsaking of the truth.
Faith, the central figure is pointing upwards toward heaven while holding an open Bible and with one foot standing on Plymouth Rock. She is facing the harbor towards the east, the direction from which the Pilgrims came to America. It was faith that brought them to Plymouth Rock and faith in the God of the Bible that sustains us.The star on her forehead seems to indicate an intellectual faith…a faith reasoned from the Bible.
Morality, is holding the Ten Commandments in one hand and the scroll of Revelation in the other. She is wearing a collar similar to the breastplate of the the High Priest in Old Testament times. The Pilgrims believed that the Commandments were God’s standard for right and wrong, and that the New Testament directed their personal lives as well.
Law, has a very powerful looking facial expression with piercing eyes. One hand is extended and the other is holding the civil statutes and ordinances for a town or commonwealth. Beneath his throne are small statuettes of Justice and Mercy. All men are equal before the Law, and no one should be given special privileges because of birth or wealth. Law convicts of wrong, yet extends its hand of mercy.
Education, is the most youthful of all the seated statues. She is wearing a wreath on her head and pointing to truth in a book of knowledge. Below the figure on either side are statuettes of Wisdom and Youth, led by Experience. Children were expected to absolutely respect and obey their parents; as a result great wisdom was expected of them.
Liberty, is the strongest looking of all the statues. Wearing a helmet, breastplate and sandals, together with a sword resting on his knee, he is dressed in typical Roman armor. Broken chains tell the story that he is free. A slain lion over his back indicates that he has won a great victory. Maintaining liberty requires vigilance.
There is much more that can be said about this great monument. Let’s learn from history and return to the truths this monument proclaims and its creators believed. Let’s return to the God of our fathers and pray daily for our nation.
May today be all you need it to be. May the peace of God and the freshness of the Holy Spirit rest in your thoughts, rule your dreams, and conquer all your fears. May God manifest Himself to you each day in special ways and may your joys be fulfilled and your prayers be answered. May faith rise to new heights as you experience peace, healing, health, happiness, prosperity, joy, and a true and undying love for God. Amen
I urge you to watch and listen to actor Kirk Cameron’s inspirational and informative talk given at the monument site in 2010. He gets it and says it much better than I.
John Pototschnik is an Art Renewal Center Associate Living Master
To view his art and bio, please click HERE