WHOM to select as sculptor, back in 1980 when Baltimore...

salmagundi

February 01, 1993

WHOM to select as sculptor, back in 1980 when Baltimore had the funding for a statue of its famous native son, Thurgood Marshall? In a national competition with more than 40 entrants, the winner was Bolton Hill's Reuben Kramer. He entered only at the last moment; the judges liked his idea of having the subject seem to grow out of the trunk of a tree: a monarch of our forest.

Where to model for the statue? Washington, said Justice Marshall; my studio, said Mr. Kramer, reversing him. The subject was driven over to Baltimore four or five times, for sittings -- standings, rather -- of an hour or so. How to keep him from growing bored, or cross? For each visit, Mr. Kramer had a local person in to make conversation with Justice Marshall: once, Anna Curry of Pratt Library; another time, federal Judge Francis D. Murnaghan.

Sketches and photos, half-size working plaster model, bronze -- the work progressed. (A full-size plaster model is the statue now indoors at Douglass High.) For the dedication, a majority of the Supreme Court convened, outdoors, on West Pratt Street, onlookers marveling.

Site matters; timing, too. Frederick Douglass, widely regarded now as the 19th century's most important native Marylander, died long before Baltimore got around to putting up a statue to him.

Today, the typical white Baltimorean, when asked for directions to James E. Lewis's statue of Frederick Douglass, looks blank.

Mr. Kramer's statue keeps Baltimoreans aware, first, of the man who may well emerge as the 20th century's most important native Marylander and, second, of the downtown location that, 150 years ago, was this city's slave-pen district.

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