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Dan Rodricks

Dan Rodricks: In Frederick, new statues celebrate fashion and fishing, not war and conquest. | COMMENTARY

In his studio in Knoxville, Maryland, sculptor Toby Mendez modeled legendary sports fisherman Lefty Kreh in clay, the first step toward a bronze statue that will stand in Culler Lake in Kreh's hometown of Frederick.

Before I get to the main subject of today’s column — a statue in progress of the world-famous fly fisherman, Lefty Kreh, in his Maryland hometown — a few findings about public memorials in the United States: They overwhelmingly honor white men and most commonly reflect war and conquest; a small percentage honor women and, according to a national survey by the nonprofit Monument Lab, only two memorialize women who served in Congress.

Which gets me to Nancy Pelosi again.

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A native of Baltimore, born Nancy Patricia D’Alesandro in 1940, she is the first woman to serve as speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives. Both her father and brother were mayors; her father was also a member of Congress. At some point, Baltimoreans who care about history and public service should get behind an effort to either honor Pelosi or the D’Alesandro family here.

According to Monument Lab’s survey of nearly 50,000 public memorials, there are 21 monuments honoring Harriet Tubman, the heroic woman who was born into slavery in Maryland and later became a rescuer of enslaved people. But there are more American monuments to Joan of Arc than to Tubman. And there are far more monuments depicting mermaids (22) than honoring women who served in the House (two: Barbara Jordan, Democrat of Texas, and Millicent Fenwick, Republican of New Jersey).

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So, there’s plenty of room for a Pelosi statue.

And one more thing, before I get to Lefty Kreh: Just last year, his hometown honored a woman, installing a larger-than-life bronze of Claire McCardell, a native of Frederick who made the cover of Time magazine in 1955 as a pioneering fashion designer. The Sun listed McCardell as one of the most important Marylanders of the 20th Century because her designs were seen as liberating for women — pedal pushers, wraparound dresses with pockets, hoodies, spaghetti straps and revealing swimsuits. McCardell designed sportswear for women; she was seen as the originator of “the American look” and had her own label. She died in 1958.

The Claire McCardell statue, by sculptor Sarah Hempel Irani, sits in Frederick’s Carroll Creek Linear Park. Instead of reflecting war and conquest, it celebrates creativity and personal freedom. The city’s next monument — I’m getting to the Lefty Kreh part now — will celebrate a man who loved the outdoors and encouraged others to enjoy it as well.

Once completed (hopefully in spring) the Lefty Kreh statue will be placed on a submerged foundation in Culler Lake, within Frederick’s Baker Park. When people stroll by, they’ll see a depiction of a man in hip waders in water up to his thighs, fly rod in hand. “The foundation will be a fairly dark concrete so you won’t see it,” says the Maryland-based sculptor, Toby Mendez. “So the illusion should work fairly well.”

Mendez created the Thurgood Marshall statue in Annapolis and the statues of the six Baltimore Orioles Hall of Famers at Camden Yards. He was not aware of the Lefty Kreh legend until commissioned to create the statue.

“What I like about it is, it looks like he just made his cast,” Michael Keaton told Mendez after the actor got a look at the artist’s rendering.

Keaton, former NBC anchorman Tom Brokaw and famed fly-tier Bob Clouser are serving as honorary co-chairs of The Friends of Lefty Kreh, the group raising money for the statue. They all fished with the master, who had a long and adventurous life as a sportfisherman, conservationist, author, fly tier and teacher of fly casting.

Kreh, who died in 2018 at age 93, was outdoors editor of The Baltimore Sun for two decades, writing about hunting and all forms of fishing.

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As a Depression-era kid in Frederick, he fished for food but practiced catch-and-release as an adult and spoke of the need to take care of the precious waters where we fish.

Kreh was best known for popularizing saltwater fly fishing and wrote a foundational book about it. He created a popular fly for saltwater, Lefty’s Deceiver. The Postal Service put a rendering of it on a first-class stamp in 1991.

Kreh fished with authors, athletes, presidents and at least one dictator. He told hundreds of stories and corny jokes. He gave casting lessons and was not above telling a student endeavoring to properly cast the fly line, “You look like a monkey hoeing cabbage.”

(Disclaimer: I was among many from the Sun newsroom who did not appreciate how well known Lefty Kreh was until after he retired from the paper at age 65. I soon discovered that he was an angling celebrity and had traveled all over the world, revered for his ability to cast accurately and at wow-inducing distances. A few months before his death, he provided me with a foreword for my book about fly fishing and fatherhood, and I believe that might have been the last piece of prose Lefty ever composed. For that, my gratitude is eternal.)

Working from photographs and videos, Mendez envisioned Kreh in that “just made his cast” position that Keaton liked and fly anglers will appreciate: It’s the moment when the line rolls out on the lake surface and the fly touches down; it’s the moment of concentration and anticipation that a bass or bluegill might mistake a fly made of feathers and fur for one of the bugs they like to eat. Mendez appears to have nailed that moment the way Lefty nailed his casts.


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