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Why Not A Statue Of Robert E. Lee Without A Beard?

 
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btownsend
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Joined: 08 Mar 2007
Posts: 5024

PostPosted:     Post subject: Why Not A Statue Of Robert E. Lee Without A Beard? Reply with quote

(My sister has "Old Spec's" glasses restored in accordance with her husband's wishes. Billy was a staunch Confederate. BT)

"Mr. William Overman, Class of 1950B, noticed the absence of "Old Spec's" glasses and decided
to correct the problem. Regrettably Mr. Overman passed away before the glasses could be
restored. In a touching demonstration of the VMI Spirit, Bill's widow, Anne committed to having
the glasses replaced. During the recent conservation work performed by Andrew Baxter of
Richmond, Virginia, the glasses were re-fabricated and welded into place. Once again "Old
Specs" has a perfect view of the Institute he founded over 160 years ago."


VIRGINIA MILITARY INSTITUTE
LEXINGTON, VIRGINIA 24450-03040

VMI MUSEUM OPERATIONS
Phone 540.464.7334
Fax 540.464.7112

1 May 2008

Mrs. Ann Overman

I am delighted to inform you that the work on General Smith has been completed.
I have enclosed three images - two of the work in progress and one of the
completed statue. The glasses add a great degree of personalization. Thank you
for your determination to carry out Mr. Overman's desire to see the statue"completed."

As you know the idea of including the glasses when the statue was originally made
in 193 I was very controversial. I have been researching our files in preparation of
writing a press release about the recent work. In one letter dated 1930, an
alumnus stated that "we would rather see Old Spec without his boots than
without his glasses!"

In regard to your financial support, Mrs. Overman: any contribution you wish to
make to the project is gratefully appreciated. You have already contributed in the
fact that the glasses probably would not have been replaced were it not for your
commitment to Mr Overman's wishes, for which we are indebted.

Thank you.

Sincerely,

Keith E Gibson
Colonel, Director

American Museums
VMI Museum· New Market Battlefield State Historical Park· Hall of Valor Civil War Museum

www.vmi.edu/museum Voice/TDD 540.464.7616

VIRGINIA MILITARY INSTITUTE
LEXINGTON, VIRGINIA 24450-03040
VMI MUSEUM OPERA'l'IONS
Phone 540.464.7334
Fa." 540.464.7112

The bronze statue of General Francis Smith, first Superintendent of VMI, recently
underwent conservation, and his vision has been restored. The statue, which stands
in front of Smith Hall at VMI, had turned green with time, and his glasses were
missing. During his fifty years as superintendent, Smith's poor eyesight required him
to never be without his glasses. It did not take long for the cadets to determine the
appropriate nickname: "Old Specs."

VMI first considered a statue to Smith soon after his death in 1890. Captain Greenlee
Letcher, VMI Class of 1886, chaired the statue committee. In 1916 he wrote to fellow
alumnus Moses Ezekiel proposing that the statue depict a bespectacled Smith in the
act of presenting a diploma and a Bible-a tradition started by the Superintendent at
the very first graduation exercise in 1842. Ezekiel agreed to take on the important
commission, stating that he was "perfectly well" but cryptically adding that "it is
necessary not to lose time as life is short and art is long." Working in his studio in
Rome, Ezekiel prepared sketches of the statue and may have created a clay model.
Tragically, Ezekiel died within the year.

The project languished for a decade before Richmond artist Ferrucio Legnaioli was
asked to assume the work. Ezekiel's sketches had been lost, but Legnaioli replicated
the original concept, spectacles and all. By the summer of 1930 a clay model was ready for review by the State Arts
commission, which must approve any work of art placed on state property. The
Commission was shocked to find "Old Specs" wearing specs.

It is against the principles of 'good art' the Commissioners argued, to include eyeglasses on a
heroic bronze statue. VMI countered that the principle goal of the Smith statue was not to
create art, but rather a portrait. One alumnus wrote that he would rather see a statue of Smith
"without his boots than to see him without his glasses." Another alumnus added that Smith
"without specs would be like a performance of Hamlet without Hamlet."

The tempest gathered momentum when the Better Vision Institute of New York sided-with VMI
stating, "why not a statue of Robert E. Lee without a beard?" Lowell Thomas brought national
attention to the dilemma when he discussed it on his radio broadcast "Literary Digest." It was
noted that President Teddy Roosevelt had been depicted in bronze wearing glasses (his portrait
on Mt Rushmore was still 6 years into the future). Meanwhile work continued on the statue in
order to meet the planned June 1931 dedication date.

Secretary Ed Campbell of the Arts Commission wrote Superintendent John Archer Lejeune just
two months before the expected dedication with the final decision of the Commissioners
recommending "that the eyeglass rims be omitted." The use of the word recommend allowed
the Commission to retain its principled position and allowed VMI to exercise its judgment.

The bronze tribute to General Smith was dedicated during the VMI graduation ceremonies on 10
June 1931, complete with diploma, Bible and spectacles. The national media attention brought
an unexpected consequence: donations to the project exceeded the cost by $1000! The extra
funds were used to upgrade the VMI Museum.

Legnaioli had added the wire rim glasses at the last moment. The design of the spectacles
allowed for them to be removed in the event the Arts Commission did not budge. The easy
removal of the glasses resulted in them falling victim to vandals at some point in the past.

Mr. William Overman, Class of 1950B, noticed the absence of "Old Spec's" glasses and decided
to correct the problem. Regrettably Mr. Overman passed away before the glasses could be
restored. In a touching demonstration of the VMI Spirit, Bill's widow, Anne committed to having
the glasses replaced. During the recent conservation work performed by Andrew Baxter of
Richmond, Virginia, the glasses were re-fabricated and welded into place. Once again "Old
Specs" has a perfect view of the Institute he founded over 160 years ago.
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