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The Explorer from Jamestown's only got one arm!
September 9, 2007 9:55 AM   Subscribe

A heroic sculpture of explorer Christopher Newport recently unveiled at the university of the same name is drawing criticism because of the decision of the university and the sculptor to depict Newport with his right hand manfully resting on his unsheathed sword--even though he lost that arm two decades before the founding of Virginia. Sculptor Jon Hair ("AMERICA'S MOST HIGHLY COMMISSIONED MONUMENTAL SCULPTOR" according his website) isn't winning any friends with his explanation of the blunder. "I wouldn't show an important historical figure like this with his arm cut off . . . We don't show our heroes maimed."

The irony is that Hair could have avoided what was surely an unintentional screwup with as little research as a visit to the Christopher Newport Wikipedia page, which features an illustration of the hook-armed explorer.
posted by LarryC (61 comments total)

 
Implicit message from the sculptor:

"Our culture doesn't consider people with disabilities to be heroic, even when they've done great things despite their disability."
posted by darkstar at 10:06 AM on September 9, 2007 [3 favorites]


Re-writing history is nothing new.
Future statues of Bush will have him personally stepping on Saddam's face, in the same heroic stance as Newport is shown.
posted by Balisong at 10:09 AM on September 9, 2007


that wouldve been a way cooler statue with the hook...
posted by fuzzypantalones at 10:11 AM on September 9, 2007 [2 favorites]


>I wouldn't show an important historical figure like this with his arm cut off . . . We don't show our heroes maimed.

"He's not a crip - he's a hero!"
posted by Flunkie at 10:14 AM on September 9, 2007


The asshole looks like he spends just as much sculpting his hair as he does his statues. You want something big, bland and 'patriotic', this is the kind of guy you pay to do it. His work isn't about showing truth, character or artfulness, it's about looking at his work, honking your horn and shouting "USA! USA!"

Any artist that can't see that sculpting a real person who had a hook for a hand as an opportunity for something cool is a short-sighted dolt, in my book.
posted by picea at 10:17 AM on September 9, 2007


What? No massive cock? I am outraged!
posted by zerobyproxy at 10:23 AM on September 9, 2007


Virginia is for loppers.
posted by kuujjuarapik at 10:25 AM on September 9, 2007 [3 favorites]


I wouldn't show an important historical figure like this with his arm cut off

*laughs*

Dude, he did the "important historical" stuff you're honoring him for with only one hand. Unless you're honoring him for privateering, which is what he was doing before he lost the limb.

Btw, that sculpture isn't "heroic." It's "absurd." As in, "Good lord, could you make a more perfect self-parody of heroic sculpture?" absurd.
posted by mediareport at 10:27 AM on September 9, 2007 [3 favorites]


History gets a comb over by Jon Hair.
posted by weapons-grade pandemonium at 10:28 AM on September 9, 2007 [5 favorites]


"I wouldn't show an important historical figure like this with his arm cut off . . . We don't show our heroes maimed."

Nelson disagrees.
posted by Auz at 10:30 AM on September 9, 2007 [1 favorite]


Hack. Saw.
posted by Tullius at 10:31 AM on September 9, 2007 [1 favorite]


Anyone else notice how on his website his own photograph is obscured by navigation buttons? I find that hilarious.
posted by delmoi at 10:32 AM on September 9, 2007


Meanwhile, a little to the north in Canada...
posted by gimonca at 10:34 AM on September 9, 2007 [3 favorites]


This girl's field hockey statue will surely go down in history as a great achievement of sculptural history.
posted by delmoi at 10:36 AM on September 9, 2007


Also: Separated at birth?
posted by gimonca at 10:37 AM on September 9, 2007


The Charlotte Observer had more last month:

Hair said last week that it was the university's decision to show Newport at a younger age, before he lost the arm in battle against the Spanish. Hair said he and a university committee reviewed several renderings, with hook and without, before settling on the two-arm version.

Part of the challenge in portraying Newport was that no historical image exists, Hair said. The committee also couldn't settle on which period hook would have been most historically accurate, he said.

"These people have painted me as an artist who `airbrushes history,' " Hair said of his critics in a follow-up e-mail. "Quite the contrary, I have endeavored to be accurate in every historic piece I have sculpted...With Capt. Newport, I took the same care, hiring a historic costumer in Hollywood, and even consulted an armor maker to ensure authenticity of the sword and baldric," he said. "The bottom line is that I love history and wish to portray it accurately."

...Hair said if Newport returned to Earth, he would thank the artist for portraying him with two arms.

posted by mediareport at 10:42 AM on September 9, 2007


I'd bet that the sculptor and the university president had no idea that the captain was one-armed.

He told the Daily Press that the university decided to portray the captain with two arms and he agreed.

"I wouldn't show an important historical figure like this with his arm cut off," Hair said.

CNU President Paul Trible did not recall having any conversation with the artist about how many arms the statue should have, university spokeswoman Emily Lucier said in an e-mail response to questions.

Trible approved a model of the statue "and he is very pleased with the statue," Lucier wrote. She said the university would have no other comment.


Look at how they are trying to pass the buck on this one. I'd bet that he just didn't do the research and that the University President, ignorant of the fact that the captain was one-armed, just signed off on it. This is about stupidity.
posted by Ironmouth at 10:43 AM on September 9, 2007


Washington Post op-ed.
posted by mediareport at 10:45 AM on September 9, 2007


That statue looks like it belongs at Disneyland or something.

We Virginians are usually big fans of our dudes with missing arms.
posted by naoko at 10:46 AM on September 9, 2007


The statue is like 25 feet tall, but it still looks like a dwarf. He really screwed up the proportions or something, because the dude looks like Gimli doing a cameo in Pirates of the Caribbean.
posted by synaesthetichaze at 10:48 AM on September 9, 2007 [3 favorites]


Wow, what a crap statue! Even setting aside the whole arm debate, the thing looks like a high school basketball team mascot.
posted by Greg Nog at 10:57 AM on September 9, 2007


He's missing a parrot and a pegleg as well.
posted by SPrintF at 11:10 AM on September 9, 2007 [1 favorite]


...Hair said if Newport returned to Earth, he would thank the artist for portraying him with two arms.

This is quite a good reply, showing a hidden contract in art that they don't normally wish to discuss without people thinking they might be insane. But, aesthetically, who really gets to decide? The artist says Newport does.
posted by Brian B. at 11:10 AM on September 9, 2007


1) The statue looks like a Soviet or fascist praise-our-glorious-leader piece of shit.

2) Who wouldn't want a hook-handed pirate mascot/idol on their front lawn?

3) This guy, apparently.

4) I'm astonished at the blatant "Hey guyz disabled peoplez are shameful and can't be seen in public, m i rite?" attitude.

5) Stuff like this actually makes me appreciate abstract art.
posted by Avenger at 11:15 AM on September 9, 2007


Wow, an injustice I couldnt care less about. Do people just scour the internet looking for their daily outrage? The world is full of inaccurate statues. The problem here isnt that there's a demand for accurate propaganda, its that there's a demand for any kind of propaganda. I'm sure the money spent on an accurate state could go to much better places. Newer history books for viginian school children perhaps?
posted by damn dirty ape at 11:42 AM on September 9, 2007


"The asshole looks like he spends just as much sculpting his hair as he does his statues"

I went to college with this guy. He was a couple of years ahead of me, and I didn't know him except by reputation. My roommate, who had the same major as him, knew him and I understand his nickname in the department was Hollywood Hair. Picea seems to think the same of him as did a lot of my classmates.
posted by Mcable at 11:43 AM on September 9, 2007


Thanks for the added links, Auz, Gimonca and especially Mediareport.

When I was growing up I spent a lot of time in the company of my best friend's mother, who was the worst person in the entire world. I remember one time she took us to the mall, where we walked past a very disabled person being pushed in a wheelchair the other way. She grabbed us kids to keep us well clear of the possibly contagious cerebral palsy victim and hissed "Why can't people like that just stay home?!!"
posted by LarryC at 11:55 AM on September 9, 2007 [1 favorite]


I agree with those who say that this is a silly-looking statue, and I find the sculptor's and the university's seeming discomfort with less than perfect-looking bodies distasteful. But, it's not fair to say that this statue is historically inaccurate for having two arms, since at some point in history the guy did in fact have two arms. What's wrong with representing him at a younger age? (OK, maybe he had one arm when he came to Virginia, but the sculptor, as far as I can tell, is not claiming that this sculpture represents Newport at that moment.) Is there some rule somewhere that a monument must represent it's subject as he looked at the time of his death? If someone made a sculpture of Einstein as he looked in his twenties, rather than in his seventies, would folks get up in arms about historical inaccuracy and discomfort with old age in society?
posted by epimorph at 12:23 PM on September 9, 2007


Hey, I like this guy's statues, especially the field hockey girl. I suppose you guy's prefer Richard Serra. Fact is, Jon Hair -- for all the he is a vain, dandyish asshole (like a lot of other pretty-good-to-great artists), is way better than his leading competitor for America's favorite public sculptor, Frederick Hart. Hart is kitsch, Hair -- for some reason -- isn't.
posted by Faze at 12:48 PM on September 9, 2007


I respectfully disagree. The guy could have a big future at the Franklin Mint. Remember to read the fine print: not all pieces go up in value.
posted by gimonca at 1:01 PM on September 9, 2007


Peter Stuyvesant has usually been depicted with his peg leg, and it makes him look like he is not to be messed with.

Pieter Stuyvesant (c. 1612 – August 1672) often Anglicized to Peter Stuyvesant, served as the last Dutch Director-General of the colony of New Netherland from 1647 until it was ceded provisionally to the English in 1664. He was a major figure in the early history of New York City. ( wiki )
posted by R. Mutt at 1:05 PM on September 9, 2007


"We don't show our heroes maimed."

Newport would beat you to death with his own severed arm for saying that.
posted by dirigibleman at 1:14 PM on September 9, 2007


So what happens if he has to make a sculpture of a bald guy?
posted by dilettante at 1:51 PM on September 9, 2007 [1 favorite]


Wow, an injustice I couldnt care less about. Do people just scour the internet looking for their daily outrage? The world is full of inaccurate statues. The problem here isnt that there's a demand for accurate propaganda, its that there's a demand for any kind of propaganda.

The problem is that it's a reflection of the way our society tries to hide disability, instead of accepting it as another (legitimate) way to be.

But, it's not fair to say that this statue is historically inaccurate for having two arms, since at some point in history the guy did in fact have two arms. What's wrong with representing him at a younger age? (OK, maybe he had one arm when he came to Virginia, but the sculptor, as far as I can tell, is not claiming that this sculpture represents Newport at that moment.)

The period of time for which he's considered a hero is one where he had one arm. The prior period of time (where he had two) is one that isn't considered particularly noteworthy in and of itself. Does that help?
posted by spaceman_spiff at 2:04 PM on September 9, 2007


Exactly spaceman_spiff

Plus, if he only had one arm there would be that much less of an indescribably horrible sculpture.
posted by R. Mutt at 3:00 PM on September 9, 2007 [1 favorite]


Mistakes get made, and it's no big deal as far as I'm concerned that they sculpted him with the wrong number of arms. But the sculptor's quote "We don't show our heroes maimed." That is a very big deal, and he can't apologize enough for that one. He's an asshole.
posted by BrotherCaine at 3:06 PM on September 9, 2007 [1 favorite]


I suppose you guy's [sic] prefer Richard Serra.

Well, duh.
posted by scody at 3:52 PM on September 9, 2007


Newport News is a military-dominated town, and Christopher Newport is a regional college. I imagine that a pretty high percentage of students at Christopher Newport are current or former military personnel or the spouses or children of current or former military personnel. And we're in the middle of a war which is resulting in a lot of people losing limbs and using prosthetics. I wouldn't be surprised if a lot of local residents would be pretty pissed off at "we don't show our heroes maimed," because they don't really have the luxury of considering it a non-issue. I think people in the area are probably pretty sensitized to the need to remove a stigma that harms disabled veterans.
posted by craichead at 3:58 PM on September 9, 2007


Wouldn't it be awesome, and terrible, if the sculptor was, in face, a MeFite?

Also: isn't this just one more sculpture in the long line of sculptors getting things horribly, horribly wrong? I'm sure this isn't the first sculptural blunder on the blue.
posted by Deathalicious at 4:07 PM on September 9, 2007


Oh, really?
posted by deCadmus at 4:07 PM on September 9, 2007


If a sculpture is ever made of me, instead of baldness, I want a glorious pompadour. I also want 100 smaller statues of Hollywood starlets staring in eager, impressed anticipation at my grotesquely enlarged manhood. It is the only way to properly honor me.
posted by Astro Zombie at 4:15 PM on September 9, 2007 [1 favorite]


spaceman_spiff: I was trying to make a broader point. What is wrong with representing someone at an age other than the one for which the person is celebrated? (That's what the Einstein bit had to do with, though Einstein may be a bad example, since he did much of the stuff that made him famous in his twenties.) Showing Newport at a young age still gets the main idea across, that they like the guy and think he was important. If you want to know what he's important for, you'd have to go do a little research on him, regardless of the number of arms that appear on the statue.

Having said that, I'll reiterate that I completely agree with you about the discomfort society has with disability. In so far as this statue business is a symptom of that, I think that what they did is silly.
posted by epimorph at 4:43 PM on September 9, 2007


Arms or no arms, it looks like the hellboy demonspawn of Captain Morgan and the Burger King king.
posted by steef at 5:03 PM on September 9, 2007 [3 favorites]


This is so lame. I don't want to diminish the hardship of losing a limb but there are plenty of depictions of historical figures without arms & they aren't particularly diminished. He was a sea captain for chrissakes, a hook just makes him cooler.
posted by Wood at 5:11 PM on September 9, 2007 [1 favorite]


You know, I'm going to disagree with everyone here. I think the statue in question fits right in with the steaming pile of suburban mediocrity that passes for a building behind it.
posted by [expletive deleted] at 5:12 PM on September 9, 2007


Arms or no arms, it looks like the hellboy demonspawn of Captain Morgan and the Burger King king.

All noble memorial statues are really idols and gods (although modern financing makes it necessary to give them actual human names). They represent eternity, not temporality. The Lincoln Memorial is considered by some to be a near replica of the great statues of Zeus. The statue of Liberty has her counterparts in ancient times. We can judge the statue many different ways, but aesthetically stipulating that it be true to life in order to increase awareness is, ironically, another form of perfection that we are demanding from it.
posted by Brian B. at 5:13 PM on September 9, 2007


aesthetically stipulating that it be true to life in order to increase awareness is, ironically, another form of perfection that we are demanding from it

But the artist himself works under that very "aesthetic stipulation," Brian B. Check his quote in the Charlotte Observer story; he claims he's all about historical accuracy. Which makes the decision to use a statue that eliminates the disability Newport had already lived with for about 15 years by the time he helped found Jamestown particularly hard to understand. The real issue for me, though, like BrotherCaine, is that he then used such a horribly stupid and insulting rationalization in response to his critics. That's a total moron/asshole move, and until he apologizes, no one with a lick of sense will give him another commission.
posted by mediareport at 5:37 PM on September 9, 2007


delmoi writes "This girl's field hockey statue will surely go down in history as a great achievement of sculptural history."

Is it me, or does the "girl"'s face and hair look like the sculptor far more than like any girl?
posted by orthogonality at 5:57 PM on September 9, 2007


¡Dios mío! What an ugly statue!
posted by speug at 6:07 PM on September 9, 2007


The real issue for me, though, like BrotherCaine, is that he then used such a horribly stupid and insulting rationalization in response to his critics.

I agree. He condescendingly appealed to what most people really want. But his own stipulations about historical accuracy were consistent with an archetype. The critics panned the Portlandia statue in Oregon for similar reasons that it was a populist missed opportunity for something more artsy. I don't particularly like the Newport statue myself, but because of the pose.
posted by Brian B. at 6:10 PM on September 9, 2007


There are really only three options in a situation like this:

1. Apologize.
2. Blame someone else.
3. Make the situation much worse by saying something stupid.

I don't think we're giving the guy enough credit for taking two out of three.
posted by yhbc at 6:36 PM on September 9, 2007


I agree. He condescendingly appealed to what most people really want.

Uh, I don't agree with that at all.
posted by mediareport at 7:01 PM on September 9, 2007


Wow, I don't care how many arms the real guy had, that statue is crap. I don't really have the facility with words to properly express how freaking ugly that thing is. Didn't anyone look at the scale models before he cast all 12,000 pounds of bronze in to a shape that stupid?
posted by octothorpe at 7:06 PM on September 9, 2007


"We don't show our heroes maimed."

And if they come home in a coffin? Do we show it?
posted by R. Mutt at 7:30 PM on September 9, 2007


I think the statue in question fits right in with the steaming pile of suburban mediocrity that passes for a building behind it.

I agree. From the buildings, to the man, the statue, the cars, I don't look at this and think "something here doesn't belong." It all belongs. Perfectly.
posted by birdie birdington at 7:31 PM on September 9, 2007


Uh, I don't agree with that at all.

Didn't say you did. I agreed with your statement. Either way it is anti-intellectual to say that social activism dictates what an artist does. Correct thinking always attacks art.
posted by Brian B. at 7:50 PM on September 9, 2007


Iraq Vet Amputee: Veteran Healthcare System A “Total, Total Beat Down”
posted by homunculus at 8:36 PM on September 9, 2007


Ugh. So many of these public statue "artists" are such dolts. They should have chosen a career in metallurgy or welding or something otherwise useful instead.
posted by Burhanistan at 8:46 PM on September 9, 2007


Either way it is anti-intellectual to say that social activism dictates what an artist does. Correct thinking always attacks art.

*backs away from thread slowly*
posted by mediareport at 9:20 PM on September 9, 2007


also, it would be interesting to see this guy do a huge statue of Professor X.
posted by Avenger at 9:33 PM on September 9, 2007


Three summers ago we toured the Lewis and Clark Trail all across the west. It was a great trip but we saw a lot of terrible heroic bronzes. This was one of the worst.
posted by LarryC at 9:49 PM on September 9, 2007 [1 favorite]


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