A monument to the past

BMA offers podcasts of self-guided tours of 14 statues around the city

August 21, 2008|By Ariane Szu-Tu | Ariane Szu-Tu,Sun reporter

Most residents drive through the same Baltimore streets each day, on the way to work or class. Usually it takes an ill-timed stoplight for them to pass a bored or tired glance over a nearby statue or monument, one of the many throughout the city. Vaguely, some might wonder about the significance of that carved effigy and the small plaque beneath.

The Baltimore Museum of Art is offering the opportunity for people to fulfill their curiosity. The BMA has created a self-guided tour that passes through neighborhoods including Charles Village and Patterson Park. The podcast features the voices of local artists, historians, authors and curators discussing the significance and history behind 14 of the city's monuments.

In addition to the podcasts, the free tour includes a map of the areas covered and a CD.

The podcast tour is an idea that came to fruition after the BMA's exhibition, Front Room: Notes on Monumentality, which explored the historic and contemporary conceptions of these "figures carved from marble or forged in bronze whose relevance has faded in the public's memory."

The podcast, not meant to be a comprehensive guide, is a mix of the histories of old and new monuments of Baltimore.

James Earl Reid, the artist that produced the statue of Billie Holiday, gives his commentary on Episode 6. Episode 2 features information about Laura Gardin Fraser, the female artist who won the competition to create the double equestrian statue of Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson in Wyman Park. Other voices on the podcast include author Madison Smartt Bell and artist Mark Alice Durant.

Durant, curator at the BMA and professor of visual arts at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County, said, "Our history is really 'our histories.' " Baltimore residents' conceptions of what is worthy of being remembered becomes more scattered. "We don't have the same kind of reverence," Durant added.

In 1827, John Quincy Adams dubbed Baltimore "Monument City." Today, it is more difficult to access the history behind the monuments since the monuments' significance has changed with time.

"At the time they were produced, they were really important," said Preston Bautista, director of public programs at the BMA. "I hope that interest in the city's history is not dwindling," he added.

Some monuments are presented in full view, commanding attention like the Washington Monument in Mount Vernon. Some are tucked away, such as the bust of composer Richard Wagner in Druid Hill Park.

"I'm new to Baltimore," Bautista said. "For me, it was a great way to learn about the city and explore the neighborhoods through this rich history."


To connect to the Baltimore Museum of Art's monument podcast, go to baltimoresun.com/monumenttour

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