FDR’s hands, and Fala’s ears

January 24, 2018

How do humans interact with sculpture?

This is a photo (I do not know the photographer) of Franklin Delano Roosevelt, and his dog Fala, from the FDR Memorial on the Mall in Washington, D.C.

FDR Memorial in Washington, D.C., sculpture of President Roosevelt, in his Navy Cape, in his wheelchair, and his dog, Fala. (Do you know the photographer?)

FDR Memorial in Washington, D.C., sculpture of President Roosevelt, in his Navy Cape, in his wheelchair, and his dog, Fala. (Do you know the photographer?) (Photo borrowed from the Facebook page, The Commons)

Some sculptors understand people want to touch the statue, and design them for touching. Others do not — but the public tends to have its way. Bronze statues within touching distance of the public offer an opportunity to see where people actually touch the things, over time. At my visit to this memorial in 2012, only the tips of Fala’s ears showed the affectionate touches of the public.

An exception can be found near this extended garden of statues (the FDR Memorial includes statues of his wife, Eleanor, and bronze portrayals of American life in the Great Depression, whose ending Roosevelt presided over). At the Korean War Memorial, a stunning and sobering display of statues, a patrol of 19 U.S. Army men prowls across the landscape. So many people walked among the statues and touched their sometimes delicate features that the National Park Service, with approval of the sculptor I understand, chained it off. Look but do not touch.

What do these repeated touchings of statuary tell us about ourselves?

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