Tag Archives: granite

Ten Commandments monument ordered to be removed from Oklahoma’s Capitol grounds

A six-foot-tall granite monument of the Ten Commandments that has sat outside the Oklahoma State Capitol for several years is on its way out.

A panel that oversees artwork at the statehouse voted 7–1 to authorize the privately funded monument’s removal after the state’s highest court ruled that it violated the Oklahoma Constitution.

The Capitol Preservation Commission, which was named as a defendant in a lawsuit seeking the monument’s removal, voted to authorize the Office of Management and Enterprise Services to remove the one-ton granite monument.

“We’re going to meet with the builder who installed it and figure out the best way to remove it,” said OMES spokesman John Estus. “We’re also going to coordinate with the Oklahoma Highway Patrol to address some ongoing security concerns that they have.”

The monument has been a source of controversy since it was erected in 2012. Several groups have since made requests to have their own monuments installed, including a satanic church in New York that wants to erect a 7-foot-tall statue that depicts Satan as Baphomet, a goat-headed figure with horns, wings and a long beard. A Hindu leader in Nevada, an animal rights group and the satirical Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster also have made requests.

The original monument was smashed into pieces last year when someone drove a car across the Capitol lawn and crashed into it. A 29-year-old man who was arrested the next day was admitted to a hospital for mental health treatment, and formal charges were never filed. A new monument was erected in January.

Several supporters of the monument attended the public meeting about the monument and complained about the commission’s actions. Former Republican state Rep. Mike Reynolds attempted to address the panel, but acting chairwoman Linda Edmondson declined to recognize him.

“This is an illegal meeting,” Reynolds argued.

Reynolds maintained that the commission only has the authority to approve or disapprove plans and that its power does not extend to areas outside of the Capitol building.

Estus said the monument will be removed by a court-ordered deadline of Oct. 12.

The Oklahoma Supreme Court ruled in June that the monument’s display violates a constitutional prohibition on the use of public property to support “any sect, church, denomination or system of religion.” A district court judge earlier this month ordered the monument to be removed within the next 30 days.

Rep. Mike Ritze, a Republican from Broken Arrow whose family paid about $10,000 for the monument’s construction, did not immediately return a telephone message seeking comment on what he plans to do with the sculpture.

A bill authorizing the monument was approved by the Republican-controlled Legislature and signed into law by former Gov. Brad Henry, a Democrat, in 2009. A Norman minister sued to have it removed, arguing that it violates the Oklahoma Constitution. Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt fought to keep the monument, maintaining that it serves a secular — not religious — purpose.

Public art or public enemy? Madison’s ‘Philosophers’ Stones

Does public art breed street crime?

“I’m not aware of any connection,” says Joel DeSpain, public information officer for the Madison Police Department. 

But the Madison Department of Planning and Community and Economic Development plans to probe the issue during a meeting of its downtown coordinating committee 5:30-7:30 p.m. on Nov. 20 at the Madison Central Library. The public is invited to take part.

The issue came to the forefront in an Oct. 1 editorial in The Wisconsin State Journal. The editorial suggested that an installation called “Philosophers’ Stones” contributed to “drug dealing and prostitution,” as well as “abusive language” and littering at the top of State Street. “Pull the artsy stones from the top of State Street,” the editorial opined.

The “stones” are 34 granite and 10 bronze cylinders, angled to form seats and tabletops. They comprise a 2004 work of public art by Jill Sebastian, professor of sculpture at the Milwaukee Institute of Art and Design.

More of the stones are to be added at the base of Bascom Hill, but so far they’re spread along the length of State Street, with the predominance at the intersection with Mifflin Street, proximate to Capitol Square.

No area business owners were cited in the editorial for having complained about the stones, but an earlier article credited Ian’s Pizza and unnamed “observers.” Turning from crime to arts criticism, the State Journal concluded, “This awkward attempt at public art won’t be missed. It’s never been popular with the general public.”

I spoke with other unnamed observers who countered that the stones are indeed popular, especially on weekends. For all we know, there would be more crime if there were no art at all. Prior to the top of State Street becoming a popular congregating place, Peace Park in mid-State was the place to converge, according to DeSpain. “There were similar problems there until infrastructure was changed,” he recalls. 

Ironically, part of the solution was the introduction of public art.

And DeSpain points out, “Certainly, other parts of the isthmus (also) get a good deal of police attention, particularly lower State Street and the 600 block of University Avenue.” 

The Madison Arts Commission has no process for de-accessioning works. Sebastian says that creating and installing the “Philosophers’ Stones” cost $150,000.

“It would cost much more to pull it out,” she says. “The construction folks did a fabulous job.”

Sebastian regrets that debate has turned away from the real human issues. “Why is there no in-depth investigative reporting on the condition of the homeless or the claims about prostitution and drug dealing on State Street?” she asks. “What customer base supports those activities if indeed they occur?

“Calling to remove art doesn’t address the root causes but makes amusing reading based on erroneous, unsupported assumptions,” Sebastian says. “If adding art or removing it were a quick solution, wouldn’t that be easy?”

PHOTOS: Courtesy Jill Sebastian

Madison’s “Philosophers’ Stones,” by Milwaukee sculptor Jill Sebastian.

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