No guns, no swords, no trappings of war mar the peace-like beauty.
Mrs. James E. Caldwell, president of the Ladies Battlefield Association, speaking at the 1927 dedication of the Battle of Nashville Monument
Even as the air strikes in Kosovo continue and violence rips through our nation’s schools, a memorial to peace is rising phoenix-like from the ashes of urban neglect in a quiet Nashville neighborhood. The relocation and restoration of the Battle of Nashville Monument, which languished for decades in a weed-choked patch above Franklin Pike at Thompson Lane, is nearing completion. The rededication ceremony is scheduled for June 26 at the monument’s new home, a shady two-acre park on Granny White Pike at Battlefield Drive.
The bronze and stone work of art by an Italian immigrant is no sword-rattling glorification of mankind’s worst tendencies, despite the fact that it is named after an 1864 Civil War battle. Instead, the classical sculpture is designed as a tribute to the men and women who served on both sides during the Civil War and then shouldered arms together in World War I. The monument features a sculpture called “The Spirit of Unity,” which depicts a young man harnessing two charging horses that represent the opposing sides in the Civil War. The bronze sculpture anchors the base of a 33-foot stone obelisk, which is topped by a 7-foot-tall angel of peace, also carved of stone.
After its dedication in 1927, the monument stood intact and in full view of motorists on Franklin Pike and Thompson Lane until 1974, when a tornado toppled the obelisk and the angel. A few years later, in the early 1980s, interstate construction marooned the truncated monument behind a chain-link fence on a bluff overlookingbut barely visible fromFranklin Pike.
“Federal money was earmarked for its relocation at that point, but it was never put to use and so the money was lost,” says Jim Summerville, an editor at the John F. Kennedy Center at Vanderbilt University and a longtime volunteer in the efforts to rescue and restore the monument. Summerville has done extensive research into the history of the monument and has helped raise private funds for its rescue. He currently serves as consultant to the monument’s restoration contractor, Rehorn & Kelly on Lebanon Road, and to the Tennessee Historical Commission, which now owns the statue.
“When I was growing up in Nashville, Thompson Lane intersected with Franklin Pike right by the monument, and we all got used to seeing it there,” recalls Ward DeWitt, chairman of the historical commission, an official state agency appointed by the governor. “And when the relocation and restoration is complete, I don’t think you’re going to find a more beautiful monument of its kind anywhere.”
The monument’s journey from honored piece of public art to forgotten ruin and back again is a fascinating one, filled with colorful characters. Though the memorial was originally completed in 1926, its story began many years before in Italy, where sculptor Giuseppe Moretti was born in 1856. After creating several public sculptures in Europe, a 32-year-old Moretti set his sights on success in America. After immigrating here, he found work fashioning classical statuary for a lavish Vanderbilt home in Newport, R.I. With that project as his calling card, he went on to forge an enduring relationship with the city of Pittsburgh, where he created four impressive public monuments in just five years.
In his 47 years in America, the sculptor created an astonishing 132 works, including dozens of epic-scale World War I memorials, civic monuments, and church sculptures as well as smaller memorial portrait tablets, busts, sculptures, and statuettes. “This is the age of hurry,” Moretti once said of his prolific output. “And art, like other things, must follow the trend of the times.”
Perhaps the sculptor’s most famous work is the 56-foot-tall cast-iron statue of Vulcan, completed in 1903, that still stands guard over Birmingham, where Moretti lived from 1924 until retiring to Italy in 1930. Another Moretti work, his monument to Cornelius Vanderbilt, was placed on the Vanderbilt campus in 1903, just a year after he submitted his bid of $30,000 to create the Battle of Nashville Monument. It would take the Ladies Battlefield Association, the civic group that spearheaded the drive for the original monument, 23 years to raise the money, but they were finally able to contract Moretti to build the monument in 1926.
Raising the funds to rescue Moretti’s work has taken almost as long. “It’s been a long struggle, but I think the end is in sight,” DeWitt says. “The work done to date has cost $328,000. Of that amount, $150,000 came from the federal government, $37,500 from the state, $37,500 from the city, and $31,000 from private sources. The Frist Foundation has also been a big benefactor.” Now another $200,000 is needed to complete the other elements of the site, which include interpretive signage, parking, and landscaping. Hawkins Partners, the local landscape architecture firm responsible for the city-funded 12th Avenue South upgrade project under way nearby, created the park design. The additional money will be sought from the private sector, according to DeWitt.
While officials and concerned citizens have been carving out the dollars necessary to restore and relocate the monument, a Nashville artisan has been carving out an angel from several tons of granite. The figure will replace the Moretti angel that was destroyed by the 1974 tornado. After working for over eight months, stone carver Coley Coleman is almost finishedand he’s not completely happy about that. “I guess I’m suffering from separation anxiety,” he says. “After so many months, it will be hard to let her go.”
Coleman began coaxing the angel out of a 30,000-pound block of Georgia granite last September. “I rented a shop near where the stone was quarried in Elberton, Ga.,” he says. “Then I cut her outline on the front, the sides, and the back. That got her down to about 17,000 pounds. We loaded her with a crane on a flatbed truck and shipped her to Nashville.”
Coleman worked with only a single front-view photograph of Moretti’s original sculpture as a guide; he also has a piece of the right wing tip from the original, salvaged by a neighborhood resident after the damaging tornado. Weighing about 10,000 pounds and complete down to her fingernails and feathered wings, the angel has received a final sandblasting finish, called “dusting.” Mounted on a pedestal and outfitted with a lightning rodplaced unobtrusively behind her headshe is scheduled to be transported to her final home atop the granite obelisk sometime next week.
Wrestling the angel from the stone has been a physical challenge as well as a creative one. “Granite is right at the top of the hardness scale,” Coleman says. “Carving in marble [as Moretti did for the original] is like carving in putty compared to this.” The granite was chosen over marble, however, precisely because of its durability. Today’s acid rain eats away at marble, Coleman notes, but doesn’t phase granite, which is also oblivious to the stress that freezing and thawing places on outdoor sculptures.
Coleman, who began carving stone 18 years ago after a varied career as a musical instrument maker and record producer, became involved in the monument project by chance. “I used to live on Clifton Avenue [which forms the southern border of the monument’s new home]. One morning, a friend of mine knocked on my door and said, ‘C’mon, we’re going to a meeting.’ ”
The meeting, convened by the Tennessee Historical Commission, turned out to be a discussion of possible relocation sites for the monument. The proposal to locate the statue in Coleman’s neighborhood caught his interest, but it was the mention of recreating the angel that really got his attention. After enduring the usual bid process demanded by a state project, he was awarded the commission. “It is the largest sculpture I’ve ever done,” Coleman says. His other works include portrait commissions and one-of-a-kind, ornately carved fireplace surrounds.
A self-taught sculptor who later studied with a master stone carver in Italy, Coleman prefers to work in a classical style and cites Rodin and Michelangelo as his favorite sculptors. A classicist himself who once scoffed at modern sculptors Henry Moore and Constantin Brancusi, Moretti would probably approve of Coleman’s work.
The rededication of the Battle of Nashville Monument is scheduled for 10 a.m. June 26 and will include Civil War reenactors, vintage music, and speeches. A concert, with special musical guests still to be determined, is set for 2-5 p.m. the same day. For updates, check out the Battle of Nashville Preservation Society’s Web site at http://www.bonps.org.
It hardly seems news that the classic White Christmas is a corny show with contrivances,…
The shooting location for hard bodies gym was formerly the Paramus, NJ location of Tower…
This is like a flashback to the '80s, when Ted Turner was colorizing CASABLANCA and…
That clip is horrifying. It looks like postmortem makeup. Very uncanny valley.
AGGGHHHH that last picture!