This is the first article in a series about Voices from the Garden: The Virginia Women's Monument, the first monument of its kind in the country.
The suitability of monuments honoring victorious white men who have dominated history has been the source of recent arguments and altercations, and Richmond, Virginia, has been part of that fray.
In the Washington Post, Petula Dvorak writes, The capital of Virginia is under occupation by armies of metal and stone. Men on horses going to war. Men with swords in war. Men in smart long coats after war. War, war, man, horse, war. From stately Monument Avenue (where a huge statue of Robert E. Lee was vandalized over the weekend) to the verdant Capitol grounds, the former seat of the Confederacy has always embraced the man-centric, war-dominated way our nation marks its history.
But as Ms. Dvorak notes in her article, that's about to change. Not by pulling statues down, but by adding statues from the annals of HERstory. These individual statues will be components of the Virginia Women's Monument entitled, Voices from the Garden.
Unlike the statues of the men who seem to command their domain from atop huge pedestals, the HER-storical statuary of the great women from Virginia's past will be approachable, interactive, life-sized bronzes arranged at eye level in an inviting, oval plaza.
Which great Virginia women, you ask? Well, that's the point, most of their names haven't been given time in the spotlight, until now.
Twelve women will be represented, the same number of bronze men marching down Richmond's Monument Avenue. Each statue requires a $200,000 investment in order to be commissioned with StudioEIS, the Brooklyn-based sculpture and design studio that created the vision for the monument, and will take several months to be completed after being commissioned. The money has already been raised for four of those statues, so the statue-making segment of the project is beginning.
Susan Clarke Schaar, Virginia's elected Clerk of the Senate since 1990, serves on the the Commemorative Commission to Honor the Contributions of the Women of Virginia, among a wide variety of other state commissions. She generously answered our questions about the process:
Meryl Ann Butler: Thank you for taking the time to educate us about this amazing undertaking, Susan. The Virginia Women's Monument is a timely and inspiring project, can you share what prompted it in the first place?
Susan Clarke Schaar: In the summer of 2009 I was enjoying our traditional two week vacation on the Rappahannock River. I received a call from Senator Walter Stosch of Henrico, President pro tempore and Chair of the Senate Finance Committee. He asked where I was vacationing and since he grew up on the Northern Neck he knew exactly how long it took to get to Richmond.
He then advised me that he had a meeting in his office the next day with some constituents and needed me to attend. So off to Richmond I went the next day. Senator Stosch introduced me to a group of ladies, mostly in their 80s and 90s. He explained that this group was concerned that history was not being taught enough in school and that women's history in particular had been overlooked. One of the group added that women had made significant contributions and achievements in the 400 years of Virginia and it was time that those contributions/achievements be recognized with a monument in Capitol Square.