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Convention speech: Zenos Frudakis — Darrow statue can help educate for years

Here is an edited version of the speech Zenos Frudakis gave on Sept. 17 at FFRF’s 40th annual convention in Madison, Wis. It has been broken up into two parts — a general overview of the idea behind the Clarence Darrow statue (this article) and the actual creation of it (click here). Frudakis was introduced by FFRF Legal Intake Attorney Madeline Ziegler:

Zenos Frudakis is a renowned sculptor known for his public monuments, portrait statues, busts and figurative sculptures. He has created an extensive award-winning collection of more than 100 bronze sculptures in public and private collections. His work includes sculptures of historic figures such as Benjamin Franklin, Albert Einstein, Dwight D. Eisenhower and Winston Churchill. “Freedom,” his best-known sculpture, has become an internet icon, inspiring many in their quest to break free from boundaries.

FFRF has been delighted to work with Zenos Frudakis on our statue of Clarence Darrow in front of the Rhea County Courthouse, home of the Scopes Trial in Dayton, Tenn.

Please welcome Zenos Frudakis.

Zenos Frudakis shows off the full-sized Clarence Darrow statue and his initial scale model as it was being constructed.

By Zenos Frudakis

Sculptor Zenos Frudakis talks to the FFRF audience about how he created the Clarence Darrow statue that now sits outside the courthouse in Rhea County, Tenn. (Photo by Ingrid Laas)

Sculpture has sometimes been called frozen music. It’s something you do without words. One of the advantages of that, philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein said, is that words can bewitch you. There are words like “unicorn” or “God,” and you think it’s there because you have the word. But when you’re working with sculpture and you don’t have words, you’re just looking directly at what’s real. Painting and sculpture both demand looking at the real world and not seeing it through language.

All of you, I’m sure, know about the Scopes trial. Outside the Rhea County Courthouse, there was a sculpture of William Jennings Bryan on the left and an empty space on the right. Bryan was 65 at the time of the trial. He was an old man, balding, overweight and had diabetes. He died just five days after the trial.

But in his sculpture, they decided to present him as a young, handsome man. It was kind of a lie right from the beginning. Instead of putting a Ten Commandments monument on the courthouse lawn, which they would have had a hard time getting away with — I know that Annie Laurie and Dan wouldn’t let them! — they put up a sculpture of him looking young.

But this was more subtle because it’s supposedly history. But it’s not really history. That sculpture is there to preach, to tell people that evolution isn’t true, that creationism is true. It was a religious statement and I wanted to change that.

Tom Davis, who’s a local historian, said, “Now that we have this sculpture of William Jennings Bryan, we’re going to need one of Clarence Darrow.” And that was something I’d been thinking about anyway.

Freethought activist Margaret Downey wanted me to meet Annie Laurie Gaylor. She said, “Come to Philadelphia where she’s speaking at the Ethical Society. Tell her about your idea to do this Darrow sculpture. Maybe she can help.” So I did, and Annie Laurie seemed interested because the Freedom From Religion Foundation had its own history in Dayton. Bryan College was sending missionaries to public school to teach religion, to sell their brand of Christianity and FFRF stopped them. They hated FFRF in town.

Annie Laurie told me she would like to be supportive and said that FFRF had this Robert Ingersoll sculpture project it was involved with in Peoria, Ill. I told her I’d help her with that. When I went into the foundry, I noticed insects all over the Ingersoll sculpture. They were, ironically, praying mantises, but they were living in the sculpture. After we got it to Philadelphia, we put the bronze statue outside and let the mantises all go off into the foliage.

I went to Dayton, and Tom Davis, the historian, was there almost every day. Students would come on field trips. This particular group was from a religious college and Tom would talk to them about the history of the site and of the Bryan statue. Then I said, “Can I speak about Darrow?” because he didn’t talk at all about Darrow. He allowed me.

The next day, when I was getting ready to leave, I saw another group of students stand in front of the Bryan sculpture. I jumped out of the car and ran across the courtyard and said, “Wait! Wait! You’ve only heard half the story. There’s going to be another sculpture here of Clarence Darrow.”

The group was a high school class from Atlanta, and the teacher said, “Tell us about him.” As they left, I thought, I can’t spend the rest of my life sitting in a car in a parking lot, jumping out, scaring kids, telling them about Darrow. But with a sculpture there, it can do the talking for us.

At this point, I thought the Freedom from Religion Foundation needed to get some publicity for this — they’re paying for it, we’re paying for it. I just said “Annie Laurie, let’s just do it. We’ll risk them stopping you from putting the sculpture up.”

While I was sculpting, a woman started threatening me. She said she would meet me when the sculpture went up and she had a surprise for me and said she had a shotgun. And there were people praying that they didn’t want the sculpture. We were constantly working with the town. There were many people in  the town who didn’t want it, but gradually they came around and were saying, “No, this is the right thing to do.”

The night before the unveiling, there were some younger people there in the front who came and brought their sign, “Welcome Clarence Darrow,” which was encouraging. And the Wall Street Journal, New York Times, newspapers from San Francisco to the East Coast wrote about it, so there was a lot of media coverage. People I know even saw it in Australia.

And then it was time for the unveiling. You may have heard about the drama of trying to get the cover off the statue — it took about five minutes. At this point I turned to the crowd and said, “It took me less time to make it than it’s taking to unveil it.”

On the relief it says, “Darrow asked William Jennings Bryan, ‘Do you think the Earth was made in six days?’ Bryan said, ‘Not six days of 24 hours.’ That was a checkmate moment, because the next thing Darrow said was: “Well, how about 600,000 years?” Then that allowed for evolution.

I thought — and the Freedom From Religion Foundation made it happen — if we could put the Darrow statue there, now it’s not a sculpture that’s preaching like the Bryan one, it’s a sculpture that’s part of a historical narrative. We redefined it and now people will go there and teachers will take their classrooms there and they’re going to have to answer to him.