Bronzing Marshall

April 15, 1994|By NEIL A. GRAUER

The General Assembly's decision to install a statue of the late Justice Thurgood Marshall on the northwest side of the State House in Annapolis is splendid, appropriate and overdue.

Allocating $100,000 for a statue design competition isn't so smart.

No need exists for a new, costly competition for a Marshall statue, because a perfectly superb one already exists -- and is in dire need of proper placement.

Baltimore's renowned and venerable sculptor Reuben Kramer labored mightily for several years on an exceptionally fine, 8-foot-7-inch-high bronze statue of Justice Marshall, for which the jurist returned to his hometown a number of times to pose. Unveiled May 16, 1980, at a gala ceremony attended by six justices of the Supreme Court, it stands -- ironically and a bit ignominiously -- beside the rear entrance to the Edward A. Garmatz Federal Courthouse, with its back to Pratt Street's east-flowing traffic.

Ever since the dedication of Justice Marshall's statue, some federal courthouse insiders and members of the Baltimore legal community have grumbled, with reason, that its placement at the back of the courthouse, facing away from most of those who see it, is appalling. They think it really deserves a place of honor in front of the courthouse, replacing an abstract work of multicolored, twisted metal plates titled ''Baltimore Federal.'' ZTC Created by artist George Sugarman (for$100,000), it received decidedly mixed reviews when it was dedicated in 1977.

''There's been some talk about moving that junk heap out back and putting Marshall in the front,'' says one courthouse insider requesting anonymity. Fourteen years of such ruminations have not resulted in any switch.

A better idea may be simply to move Mr. Kramer's Justice Marshall down to Annapolis, where it would be accorded the honored placement it and Justice Marshall merit -- and for a lot less than $100,000.

If Baltimore won't part with the statue, an exact copy could be made from Mr. Kramer's original plaster model, which is in Douglass High School, the justice's alma mater.

The cost of making a new bronze copy of the statue, paying Mr. Kramer a proper fee, and purchasing a suitable pedestal could edge upward toward the $100,000 figure the General Assembly has set aside, but the public would be assured of receiving an exceptional piece of portraiture with which the subject being celebrated was intimately involved.

And providing Annapolis with a copy of a Baltimore statue has an excellent precedent -- the sort of thing justices and lesser legal lights like to cite: The controversial statue of former Chief Justice Roger Brooke Taney, for which the statue of Justice Marshall has been authorized as a sort of counterweight, itself was copied later, and its exact duplicate sits in Baltimore's Mount Vernon Square.

Our practical and frugal forebears knew that a single statue could be suitable for two places at once.

Neil A. Grauer is a Baltimore writer and caricaturist.

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