Anchor the Senate Street median with law and art

April 26, 2013

Temple Ligon
April 25, 2013 

Cities like to remember their pasts through memorials scattered around town. Columbia has a statue of Mayor Kirk Finlay in Finlay Park, for instance. The State House grounds are almost crowded with the state’s past leaders, all who had a profound impact on the capital city.

The State House lawn is appropriate in its role as repository for commemorative sculpture, but the statuary commemorates political leaders for the most part, not leaders in the sciences and the arts. One glaring exception is the bust of Dr. Marion Sims, the Father of Modern Gynecology, at the northwest corner of the State House grounds.

Dr. Sims faces the capitol, and his face cannot be seen from the street.

The Virginia State House grounds in Richmond is missing many significant Virginians because their statues are located nearby along Monument Avenue. To align heroes along the median is to allow viewing access along the avenue, telling passengers and pedestrians and bicyclists the story of Richmond and the story of Virginia.

South Carolina has a hall of fame recalling its past heroes housed in the convention center at Myrtle Beach, but for now there are no busts and no statues, just portraits.

Columbia has a major median along Senate Street, which is interrupted by the State House between Sumter and Assembly. The median is especially wide between Sumter and Gregg because Senate Street is especially wide. Both Senate and Assembly were laid out at 150 feet across, while the other streets bounded by Elmwood, Harden, Heyward and the Congaree River  – Columbia’s original street grid of 1786 – were intended to be 100 feet across from building lot line to building lot line.

Columbia can have its own version of Monument Avenue, but it needs to be a concept unique in itself, not just an idea borrowed from Richmond.

The Taylor Mansion at the corner of Senate and Bull is part of the plans for the new law school at USC. The Taylor Mansion was built and occupied by the same Taylor family who much earlier sold Richland Plantation to make way for the City of Columbia.

Legal scholars and most ordinary citizens like to discuss the early history of the United States and the beginning of its rule of law. Thomas Jefferson, author of the Declaration of Independence, comes to mind; but what pre-Jefferson figure most comes to mind? Where lay the influences on Jefferson? Can we find earlier words similar to what Jefferson wrote?

Jefferson said, Bacon, Locke and Newton… I consider them as the three greatest men that have ever lived, without any exception, and as having laid the foundation of those superstructures which have been raised in the Physical and Moral sciences.

John Locke was an authority on predecessor Francis Bacon’s philosophy and he was a good friend and Royal Society contemporary with Isaac Newton, 10 years Locke’s junior.

Locke, called the Father of Classical Liberalism, is credited with the phrase life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, which Jefferson borrowed for the American Declaration of Independence.

More than 100 years earlier, King Charles II granted the charter to form Carolina in 1663, and a larger parcel was included in the second charter in 1665. By then Carolina was to be bounded on the north where North Carolina and Virginia share a border and on the south by what became Daytona Beach, both boundaries running west all the way to the Pacific Ocean. To clean up Vice President Biden a bit: This was a big deal.

Locke met Lord Anthony Ashley Cooper, 1st Earl of Shaftesbury in 1666, and he and Lord Ashley set about writing the Fundamental Constitutions of Carolina, which heavily influenced Jefferson’s Declaration of Independence and later the authors of the U. S. Constitution.

John Locke is not commemorated anywhere in sculpture – neither a statue nor a bust. There is a portrait of Locke in the library of the College of Charleston.

He never visited Charleston. Locke died in 1704. Still, since we gave him his first job, we can claim him as our own.

Another favorite son of South Carolina, a part-time Columbian, is the painter Jasper Johns, the world’s most successful and expensive living painter. Last week – Friday, April 19 – Johns was thoroughly discussed in this space, including a push to convince him to locate his personal art collection in Columbia.

Locke and Johns, 300 years apart, could work together on the Senate Street median.

A larger-than-life bronze bust of Locke should sit suitably on the Senate Street median just west of Pickens Street, facing the new law school. After young Locke’s first real job, his gig with Lord Ashley putting together what became South Carolina, he went on to become philosopher John Locke, one of Jefferson’s three greatest men who have ever lived.

Johns, one of whose Flag paintings from the mid-’60s sold in a private exchange three years ago for a reported $110 million, needs to be commemorated on the Senate Street median just east of Pickens Street, facing the art department at USC, where he completed three semesters, the bulk of his formal art education.

Locke and Johns, the world’s greatest coupling of bronze busts in law and art, can anchor the Senate Street median while other South Carolinians eventually populate the place, representing fields in the performing and visual arts, literature, science, military, et al., leaving the State House grounds to elected officials. 

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