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Baltimore sculptor creates new statue, a possible Taney replacement

A possible and appropriate replacement for the statue of Roger B. Taney in Baltimore

Carl Schoettler, the finest feature writer ever employed by The Baltimore Sun, provided this information in a 1995 story about artist Joseph Sheppard: “He graduated from the Maryland Institute in 1953 with the last group of artists who studied with Jacques Maroger, the great proponent of Old Masters techniques and mediums. Mr. Sheppard went on to win a Guggenheim Fellowship and an enviable reputation as a realist painter in various guises and genres, a painter of landscapes, street scenes, and barrooms, boxers, strippers and saltimbanques. He's an accomplished sculptor whose most notable sculpture here is perhaps the Holocaust Memorial on Lombard Street.”

Sheppard also created the statue of Pope John Paul II on Charles Street and the golden-gloved Brooks Robinson near Camden Yards.

Now in his mid-80s, Sheppard is still making art in Baltimore. Among recent works: A sculpture of abolitionist Frederick Douglass that Sheppard offers as a replacement for the statue of Roger B. Taney, author of the Supreme Court’s infamous Dred Scott decision, in Baltimore’s Mount Vernon.

Last month, a seven-member mayoral commission voted  to remove two monuments -- the Jackson-Lee in Wyman Park and the Taney.  Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake appointed the commission to consider what to do with Baltimore's four Confederate-era monuments. While some support has been registered for keeping the Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson monument, I’ve heard no sympathy for Taney.

He was the Maryland-born chief justice who wrote the majority opinion in the Scott case, in which the Supreme Court held that African-Americans could not be citizens. "In my view, he deserves a place in infamy," said Larry Gibson, a member of the monuments commission, law school professor and biographer of Thurgood Marshall.

In a recent column, I suggested the following: Melt Taney down. Turn the metal into coins honoring two other Marylanders, Douglass and Harriet Tubman, then sell the coins and give the proceeds to the Thurgood Marshall College Fund.

Or, use some of the proceeds to commission a suitable replacement for the Taney monument.

Or find a benefactor willing to do so.

Joe Sheppard’s suggestion: Put his new bronze of Douglass in its place.

Sheppard finished the statue about a year ago. “It was before any of this controversy [over Confederate-era icons],” he says. Sheppard offered the sculpture to St. John’s College in Annapolis, which includes some of Douglass’s speeches and articles in its great books program. The college did not take the work; it remains for sale.

The sculpture is available at six feet or nine feet. It presents a stoic Douglass, a book in his right hand, standing behind a barefoot black boy. The famous orator’s left hand is on the boy’s shoulder. The boy’s left hand touches Douglass’s. The caption quotes the famous abolitionist: “Once you learn to read, you will be forever free.”

There already are two statues of Douglass in Baltimore, and at least two more elsewhere in Maryland. As far as I can tell, we do not have one of Harriet Tubman. My vote would be to replace Taney with Tubman. But Sheppard’s Douglass is really striking, and ready to go. I thought you might like to see it.

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