The Changing Significance of the Monument

The Changing Significance of the Monument


The world surrounding the Lewis and Clark monument changed dramatically between the years of 1919 and 1997. Generations came and went, controversial wars broke out, and women and minorities gained power in society and government. With all of these external changes, it is not surprising that the significance of the monument changed as well.

The most visible change in the monument's significance deals with the manner in which Keck depicted the Indian guide, Sacajawea. No records exist detailing his reasons for portraying her in such a manner. However, the precedents for the depiction of Indian females in American art reveals the context in which Keck designed his work.

The context for this depiction dates back to a time when the United States struggled with its notion of nationhood. The ideals of liberty, independence, and freedom were held to be part of the legacy of the new nation In addition, there existed a "continuous need to refer to the new nation as a living entity with a tangible spirit - [Americans] personified their country for one hundred different purposes. The figures which artists employed to personify the country during these years reflect variant ways of thinking about the early Republic both in this country and abroad. (Fleming 37) Fleming goes to show that the most enduring representation of American ideals was the Indian princess as a physical representative of the federal government. He states, "in so far as the new federal government could give official sanction to a symbolic figure, it was this one." (Fleming 39) This symbol so impressed the minds of American officials that during the years of 1783 to 1789, four commemorative medals possessed the single figure of an Indian princess as it sufficed to embody the genius of America. (Fleming 66) The depiction of America as an Indian princess meant to signify the "beautific vision [of America] and reflect past achievements and show the promise of the future". (Fleming 45) The significance of Fleming's analysis of America as an Indian princess rests in the durablity of the image itself. Indeed, he shows that the Indian princess remained a popular folk figure throughout the nineteenth century. (Fleming 66) Americans believed themselves to possess a manifest destiny and any sculpture which reflected these values was well received.

Furthermore, the inclusion of a female form in sculpture had profound significance. In the early twentieth century, a sculptor by the name of Frederick MacMonnies enumerated the benefits of including the female form in sculpture, "When we wish to symbolize anything tempting, we use a woman's form. It has always been so - justice, devotion, inspiration, and other beautiful, noble, or graceful things are symbolized by it". (Bogart 183) The values of MacMonnies were those of the early twentieth century, the same period in which Charles Keck designed the statue of Sacajawea.

However, for many present day observers of the Lewis and Clark monument, the allegorical allusions derived from the use of the female form have no bearing. A revealing example of the current controversy over Sacajawea's representation occurred November 21, 1997. Several women's rights groups from the Charlottesville community and the University of Virginia joined forces to protest Sacajawea's portrayal. The Charlottesville Daily Progress stated that her image has "long angered some residents who object to her position in the scene". (CDP 11-21-97) The news article reported that these groups sponsored a rally to raise awareness about what they describe as "the under-representation and misrepresentation of women and minorities throughout history". Camille Cooper, co-chair of the Committee for the Empowerment of Young Women, stated that the Education Liberation Rally was held because it "epitomizes this cultural problem with its blatantly offensive representation of Sacajawea". (CDP 11-21-97)

In reality, the purpose of the rally did not focus on the actual representation of Sacajawea. Instead, the rally aimed at obtaining additional support for an education bill that is to appear before the Virginia Senate in its next term. The women claim that if the bill passes, a new curriculum will be required in public schools requiring the incorporation of different cultures and women. The leaders of the rally tied the significance of the bill into Education Liberation Rally with the comment, "there exists a plausible connection between failing self-esteem and curricular composition". (CDP 11-21-97)

The Education Liberation Rally points to the changing cultural and artistic significance of the Lewis and Clark monument. The rally shows that many different interpretations may be derived from the same cultural object - a unique phenomena in that the monument itself possesses a fixed location and static nature. This illustrates that all cultural objects do not exist in a vacuum atmosphere. Rather, the denotative value of cultural objects changes as the world which surrounds them develops new ideals and beliefs.

Introduction/City Beautiful/Origins/Paul G. McIntire/Process/InterpretationsConclusions/Works Cited