As members of the Falls Art Foundry began chipping away at the bright orange paint streaking the side of the John Breckinridge Castleman statue in Cherokee Triangle Monday, drivers traversing the roundabout soon started shouting out their car windows to make known their opinions about the statue.
Last week — in the wake of violent protests in Charlottesville, Virginia, — the statue was vandalized. As a result, Mayor Greg Fischer directed the city’s Commission on Public Art to survey current artworks, and determine whether any could be interpreted as “honoring bigotry, racism and/or slavery.”
Some who view it as a landmark and cite Castleman’s involvement in the city parks system want it stay in the neighborhood. Others feel that given Castleman’s service in the Confederacy during the Civil War, the statue honors racism and slavery, and should be removed.
Matt Weir, a co-owner of the foundry, says he expected strong reactions.
“We generally assumed people would express their thoughts and feelings,” Weir says. “So that’s what we are hearing.”
But regardless of whether the statute ultimately stays or goes, Sarah Lindgren, the city’s Public Art Administrator, says it has to be restored until a decision is made. That’s why the Foundry was hired to complete the $8,200 restoration.
According to Weir, it will be about a one-week process with a team of four to five people. He says they won’t know whether the exterior of the statute is permanently damaged until they get further into the process.
“We are cleaning that paint off, bringing back to a sealed surface and then we’ll wax it again which will preserve the piece for a number of years in the future,” Weir says. “And that’s the same thing the public art administration and we as conservators would recommend for any public artwork out in the environment.”
The Commission on Public Art is the same group that will hold a public meeting on September 6 to review the existing inventory of artworks in public spaces — there are about 100 total — and look for any artworks that could be perceived as honoring racism or slavery.
“Part of that meeting will be designated for public comment, so people can comment and provide their input about this piece and other pieces in the collection,” Lindgren says.
“So this meeting where they come up with a list is just a beginning of the process, and then the mayor’s office will be scheduling a series of conversations to gather a wide variety of input from all parts of the community on that list.”
The meeting will be held in the Old Jail Auditorium on West Liberty Street. It begins at 4 p.m.