This is the fifth and final part of Jon Harbuck’s series. – editor
Once the Shaw Memorial was completed (1884, according to what I read) a lavish dedication ceremony was held. Among the notable speakers that day was William James (of the famous Boston literary family) whose oration paid tribute not only to Colonel Shaw but also to Saint-Gaudens’s lifelike images of the 54th’s soldiers: “…so true to nature that one can almost hear them breathing as they march.” James’s line supports the theme of our piece, so Dutch and I agreed that it ought to appear on the base.
Some of the most interesting questions I got about the piece concerned whether the soldiers should be marching from bronze into life or the other way around. Expanding on the James quotation, Dutch and I chose the former. (We had considered other quotations which might have led to the opposite choice.) Rather than an abrupt demarcation line, I pictured a gradual transition into full color — most of the figures in bronze to carry over the Monument theme, but the lead marchers beginning to come to life. As noted in an earlier installment, the bronze color mix is quite metallic. So I kept the “life” colors somewhat metallic in the transition areas, but painted full color everywhere else. Thus, the next soldier in file behind the “Morgan Freeman” NCO is mostly bronze, only beginning to come into color. The drummer is mostly colorized bronze. The legs and back of the NCO are bronze, transitioning to color, while his head, arms and torso have come into full color. The overall effect (the effect I was aiming for, anyway) is that of a “color halo” through which the file is marching into life.
The slab of the original Memorial bears a Latin inscription which loosely translates, “He sacrificed everything in service to the Republic.” With the help of Francesca DeSimone — my go-to authority on all things classical — I reoriented the inscription toward the soldiers, so that now it reads, “They sacrificed everything…”. What more fitting title could Dutch have chosen to display the piece at Expo?