Bernard A. Drew | Our Berkshires: Dilemma of the Stone Mountain memorial

Our Berkshires

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GREAT BARRINGTON — This country's racial divide is not easily resolved, but we're witnessing quite a turnaround, helped certainly by the new National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington, D.C. Some Southern states are removing art that commemorates the Confederacy, slave owning and Jim Crow segregation.

Great Barrington native W.E.B. Du Bois wrote about Gen. Robert E. Lee in "The Crisis" in 1928: "His personal comeliness, his aristocratic birth and his military prowess all call for the verdict of greatness and genius. But one thing — one terrible fact — militates against this and that is the inescapable truth that Robert E. Lee led a bloody war to perpetuate slavery

"It is the punishment of the South that its Robert Lees and Jefferson Davises will always be tall, handsome and well-born. That their courage will be physical and not moral. That their leadership will be weak compliance with public opinion and never costly and unswerving revolt for justice and right. It is ridiculous to seek to excuse Robert Lee as the most formidable agency this nation ever raised to make 4 million human beings goods instead of men. Either he knew what slavery meant when he helped maim and murder thousands in its defense, or he did not. If he did not he was a fool. If he did, Robert Lee was a traitor and a rebel — not indeed to his country, but to humanity and humanity's God."

The largest memorial to the Lost Cause stands near Atlanta and is a dilemma. Stone Mountain, a 583-acre, an 825-foot, dome-shaped granitite monadnock, is irretrievably gouged with an enormous tribute to Lee, Davis and Stonewall Jackson and their horses Blackjack, Traveler and Little Sorrel, but thankfully omitting Ku Klux Klan founder Nathan Bedford Forest, though his inclusion was considered.

There's a Berkshire connection.

Lukeman takes a crack

Helen Plane, president of the Atlanta chapter of the United Daughters of the Confederacy, wanted to preserve Southern honor by carving a memorial on the largest exposed granite mountain in the world. She came to an arrangement with the mountain's owner, Sam Venable (a Klansman), and engaged sculptor Gutzon Borglum (a white supremacist) in 1915. The artist said it would cost $8 million and take eight years to complete. Borglum wanted to add hundreds of figures besides Lee's. He started work in 1916 but had barely scratched the surface (he completed the general's head) when the country was caught up in World War I. Funding disappeared.

In the early 1920s the Stone Mountain Confederate Monumental Association tried to raise money to complete the project, but a dissatisfied Borglum went off to other endeavors including the four presidential heads on Mount Rushmore.

Henry Augustus Lukeman (1872-1935) in 1925 was given three years to get the job done. New York-educated and living in that city, he welcomed the commission. "Being a Virginian by birth I naturally feel a deep patriotic interest in the memorial," he said. "It is an opportunity to do one of the greatest pieces of sculpture the world has ever known."

He came up with a new design to include Davis and Jackson and set to work. Much of his carving done with blasting powder, much of his progress impeded by cracks that grew in the granite. Venable refused to extend the contracted timeline for completion of the mountain and Lukeman left.

Lukeman in 1900 purchased a summer place in the Larrywaug section of Stockbridge, not far from his friend and mentor Daniel Chester French's Chesterwood. Lukeman built a summer studio in 1908. He had a number of Berkshire commissions including the Soldiers & Sailors Monument in Pittsfield and the McKinley statue in Adams. Lukeman married Helen Bidwell Blodgett. He left the studio to his niece, Marie Leuchs, whose stained-glass-artist husband, Fred, used the studio for many years. Their daughter Catherine still works there seasonally.

As to Stone Mountain, Georgia created a Stone Mountain State Park Authority and a private Stone Mountain Memorial Association formed in 1941. It brought in Atlanta sculptor Julian Harris who, with assistance from Works Progress Administration laborers, worked further on the low relief only to be interrupted by World War II.

The state of Georgia finally purchased the mountain in 1960 and a Northern artist, Walter Kirkland Hancock of Gloucester, in 1964 largely followed Lukeman's models as he continued the labor using modern thermo-jet torches. The completed memorial was unveiled in May 1970. The carving was finished two years later.

More to the story

Today there is growing discomfort over Stone Mountain. But while there are Georgia residents eager to remove the carving, there are also many who want to keep it. Artistic considerations don't figure in the discussions; it's political.

Large city museums are posting disclaimers regarding the content or artist for some works in their displays; a major educational effort should be made at Stone Mountain to at least tell visitors there's far more to the story than military prowess. If huge money is to be spent, it would be well directed to, say, raising and preserving the newly located U.S. slave ship Clotilda that lies sunken off Alabama shores — an important artifact in telling the long-hidden aspect of plantation history.          

More about fine artist Lukeman, by the way, may be found in an earlier Our Berkshires column by Gerard Chapman, "Lukeman's sculpture is his `memorial,'" Berkshire Eagle, Feb.2, 1978.

Bernard A. Drew is a regular Eagle contributor.


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