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Connecticut's Monuments: an essay
Purpose of Monuments || Monument Designs || Suppliers & Materials || Artists & Sculptors || Dedication Ceremonies
In assessing the place of civic Civil War monuments in Connecticut's history, the material aspects appear to be non-controvertible, but the intangible considerations are difficult to evaluate.
There can be no disagreement that the erection of civic Civil War monuments in Connecticut was a substantial episode. Many towns were interested and succeeded in raising monuments. Most of the memorials were furnished by state firms. A great deal of the work of stonecutting was done in Connecticut by men whose craftsmanship can only be admired. The breadth and depth of community participation and the intensity of local civic pride demonstrated on Dedication Days are without parallel.
Discussion is possible regarding motivation. On the one hand, was the Portland resolution a full and revealing statement of intent? Or was there, from the first, an appreciation by the establishment that the monuments presented an opportunity for further entrenchment of those in power? On the other hand, the wrenching personal losses of the war were as unprecedented as the monuments that followed. It seems likely that an emotional sense of loss and need for a vehicle to express the loss and a community sense of hope for the future played a strong role in community support.
The aesthetic and artistic significance of the monuments may also be debated. At one extreme, some memorials obviously are without aesthetic pretense. A plaque devoted exclusively to lettering may be an important recognition of Civil War heroes, but it attempts no aesthetic statement.
In the middle are the typical parade rest figures on pedestals. These are the statues that are subjects of debate. Are they art? The 1876 Centennial catalog said they were. Reynolds takes the position that they are not, stating, "Those rudely crafted sentries that populated the northeast United States annoyed many artists and connoisseurs...." He quotes Cecilia Beaux as saying she "...saw crude statues as 'blunders of art and bad taste.'" 50 One reason the standard figure is "crude" is that it is granite, carved before the day of pneumatic tools. Intricate details were not economically possible. The great advantage of the widespread use of granite is that the figures have well withstood the test of time: conservators are not needed because the monuments are still in fine condition.
Samuel Colt Monument, Cedar Hill Cemetery, Hartford CT. Ca. 1864
The repetitive use of the figure is more difficult to explain. Since each was individually cut, there was no economy of mass production. It is possible to speculate that Civil War monuments were a mass movement, and everyone wanted to be like everyone else.While the figures may not be great art, they are public outdoor sculpture, often the first. In at least one community, a century later, the Civil War soldier is still the only public outdoor sculpture. 51
At the other extreme, the best of Connecticut's civic Civil War monuments are art of the highest quality and significance. The few pieces that can be so described owe their excellence to the imaginative and creative talent of their designers. In this category may be counted George Keller's SOLDIERS AND SAILORS MEMORIAL ARCH, Hartford, where the nation's first permanent triumphal arch was created on a low budget in a combination of Gothic Revival, Romanesque Revival, and Neo-Classical Revival forms; WINCHESTER SOLDIERS' MONUMENT, Crown Street, Winsted in Winchester, where Robert W. Hill and George E. Bissell collaborated to create a dramatic figure on a medieval keep; and MUSTERED OUT, Litchfield. MUSTERED OUT applies the term for proper completion of military service to the death and burial of individual soldiers, using as its symbol, in polished granite, a drum, which is integral to the military ceremony. In its original, regrettably anonymous, treatment the memorial fuses military symbolism and ritual to create a modest but most effective and poignant testimonial to those who made the sacrifice ennobled by the Portland town meeting resolution.
| Footnotes |
| 50 [back] Reynolds, op. cit., p. 153. |
51 [back] Danielson in Killingly.