Criticism from widow, art patrons further delays Ashe monument Plans quickly fell apart after holiday weekend

January 04, 1996|By NEW YORK TIMES NEWS SERVICE

RICHMOND, Va. -- The old Confederate capital, which hobbled Arthur Ashe on his road to glory, had hoped to reclaim him with a grand monument saluting both his tennis triumphs and the humanitarian and scholarly pursuits of his later days.

But two years after Mr. Ashe's death, Richmond seems to have bungled that effort.

The monument, which was just days from being bronzed, now faces years of delay.

The sculptor says he will not complete the job until he is paid, and a group of art patrons, dissatisfied with the statue, is planning an international competition for a new design. And the city's legendary Monument Avenue, which Mr. Ashe was to integrate in death, may well remain the domain of the mounted generals who defended Dixie.

The plans fell apart in just 48 hours. On New Year's weekend, Mr. Ashe's widow, Jeanne Moutoussamy-Ashe, telephoned the Richmond Times-Dispatch and said she wanted to issue a statement.

Widow's opposition

In an article published Monday on the newspaper's opinion page, she said that given the outcome of the city's months of wrangling over the site and design of the statue, "It is just as likely, I believe, that he would not have even wanted a statue created."

The memorial was to show Mr. Ashe in a sweat suit, racket in one hand and books in the other, surrounded by statues of four children. Ms. Moutoussamy-Ashe said that pose was, indeed, her husband's request. But she wrote that Mr. Ashe had expected the statue to be placed in front of an African-American Sports Hall of Fame he wanted built in Richmond, where he was born and buried. The city has raised just $20,000 of the $20 million that's needed to build the hall.

Ms. Moutoussamy-Ashe also said she opposed putting the statue on Monument Avenue. Mr. Ashe himself once wrote bitterly about the broad, tree-lined avenue linking gritty downtown with gracious suburbs. He recalled that before leaving the segregated city to pursue his tennis career, he watched services televised from an all-white church that "confirmed its domination and its strict racial identity by its presence on Richmond's Monument Avenue, the avenue of Confederate heroes."

The idea of adding Mr. Ashe's statue to those of the generals once riled Richmond. But criticizing the site became passe after a City Council vote in July, after a raucous seven-hour hearing in which some speakers squared off in African dress and Civil War uniforms.

After two branches of Mr. Ashe's family quarreled privately about the location, both sides agreed to appear at the hearing and endorse Monument Avenue.

Mayor Leonidas B. Young now says the City Council chose that location believing it was supported by Ms. Moutoussamy-Ashe, who had made no public comment. "We were deceived in regards to what her opinion was, and what Arthur's original intent was," Mr. Young said after the article appeared.

New design is sought

Stunned by the attack, the Richmond Planning Commission on Tuesday delayed a long-scheduled vote on the monument, and said the city would consider another sculptor. The commission gave the arts group 60 days to prepare a plan for a contest for a new design.

That, too, had been resolved. The plaster model had been criticized in the city's art community, where some said the outstretched arms made Mr. Ashe appear as if he were being robbed at gunpoint. Others thought the statue resembled a cactus, or a hitchhiker or a panhandler.

In response to complaints, the sculptor, Paul DiPasquale, made several changes.

In the statue's latest form, the body is brawnier, the racket is lower and Mr. Ashe gazes toward the four figures of children at the monument's base, instead of into the distance. The Richmond Commission of Architectural Review approved the new look Sunday.

The next morning, Ms. Moutoussamy-Ashe weighed in. At his studio yesterday, Mr. DiPasquale, 44, sighed in frustration. He has been paid only part of his fee, which was expected to total about $100,000.

"The city has accepted this statue how many times -- four times?" he said. "And then they keep not accepting it."

Uncountable chapters loom. The arts group has begun raising $500,000 for a second statue.

The city is trying to use the dispute to jump-start the African-American Hall of Fame, and now hopes to build it in two years instead of eight. A fund-raising gala is planned for later this year.

Were he alive, Mr. Ashe might have been appalled by the fracas, but he would not have been surprised. In a memoir, he recalled returning to his hometown at the age of 22 for Arthur Ashe Day.

"There I was in Richmond, getting the big hello and the high-elbow handshake from folks who'd paid me no heed when I lived there," he wrote. "The whole 'Day' was basically a money-raising promotion, of course, and Richmond's aristocrats generously went along."

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