“REMOVE NOT THE ANCIENT LANDMARK” PUBLIC MONUMENTS AND MORAL VALUES (Donald Martin Reynolds, Editor)
Routledge Revivals Series, First Edition (First published in 1996)
Will be released on December 17, 2021 but now available in DRM (Digital Rights Management)
The Remarkable Prescience* of a Biblical Imperative -Donald Martin Reynolds
“Remove Not the Ancient Landmark…” (Proverbs 22-28)
“Remove not the ancient landmark, which your fathers set up” is a biblical narrative from the twenty-second chapter of the Book of Proverbs, one of the Sapiential Books of the Old Testament. The book refers to the piles of stones that served as fences or landmarks and defined each family’s ancestral land claims in ancient Palestine. Removing those landmarks was a most serious matter then, as the neglect and destruction of our public monuments is today.
When Communism fell in 1990 and the monuments to Communism’s heroes were being trashed, that biblical imperative, “Remove Not the Ancient Landmark,” re-surfaced with meaning for the world at that time, and it became the watchword of two symposia (an annual tribute to the renowned art historian, Rudolf Wittkower), 1991 and 1992, the subject of this book.
The wisdom of that imperative calls out again today for our reflection in the face of the hysteria propelled by the attack on the statue of Robert E. Lee in Charlottesville, Virginia, on August 12, 2017. That madness continues today to threaten our public monuments, as well as the principles for which they stand. It calls out for acknowledging their significance and their survival.
*The use of the word “prescience,” with its mythological roots, illustrates the universal nature of prediction, whether pagan, Judaic, or Christian.
Public Monuments and Moral Values
By commemorating specific people, deeds, and events, monuments symbolize and convey systems of values of our past as well as our present. To explore the dynamic between monuments and values, and inspired by that biblical imperative, leading authorities from the fields of art history, philosophy, and anthropology were convened in those two symposia. The significance of the monuments they discussed was analyzed from their creation, celebration, and perpetuation to their neglect and destruction.
Survival through Celebration
“The past is not dead history,” the eminent scientist and Pulitzer Prize-winning author Paul Dubos has written. “It is the living material out of which man makes himself and builds the future.” (1)
I’m also convinced that “the wise man preserves that which he values and celebrates that which he preserves.” (2) Celebration, from the Latin, “much frequented,” suggests continuity of involvement. To celebrate our monuments properly, then, is to incorporate them into our society, as the speakers analyze, from the neighborhoods and elementary classrooms to secondary and university levels.
Monuments to Neglect
If we do not integrate our monuments into our daily lives through preservation and celebration, we forget, neglect, and even destroy them with improper maintenance. If we are to reclaim what I have called our Monuments to Neglect (3) and prevent their deterioration and destruction, we must first adopt a philosophy of celebration that fully integrates our public monuments within the community. That philosophy must acknowledge that monuments are primarily symbols and embodiments of traditions and values before they are public art and components of urban planning. Monuments are the tangible and permanent means by which we perpetuate those traditions and values. We must develop a policy of education, preservation, and celebration to implement that philosophy.
It is truly meet and just, right and availing to our culture’s salvation that we should, at all times and in all places preserve, perpetuate, and celebrate our monuments and memorials in their distinction of subject, oneness in being, and equality in majesty (extrapolated from the Preface of the Tridentine Rite).
(1) Rene Dubos, So Human an Animal (New York: Scribner’s), 1968, p. 242.
(2) Donald Martin Reynolds, Masters of American Sculpture, the Figurative Tradition from the American Renaissance to the Millennium (New York: Macmillan, 1988), pp. xi-xii.
(3) Donald Martin Reynolds, “Monuments to Neglect” Newsday (April 18, 1989), p. 60.
NOTE: All of the essays are accompanied by photographs of monuments, both famous and forgotten, from around the world. This collection of more than sixty photographs provides a wonderful look at some of the most enduring symbols of pride, politics, and tragedy.
Donald Martin Reynolds is an art historian, consultant, and the author of numerous books, articles, and reviews on American art and architecture, which include Masters of American Sculpture, from the American Renaissance to the Millennium, 1994; Monuments and Masterpieces: Histories and Views of Public Sculpture in New York City, 1988, rev. ed. 1997; The Architecture of New York City, 1984, rev. ed. 1994; “For Our Freedom and Yours, the Art and Life of Andrew Pitynski, Portrait of an American Master, 2015. He taught at Columbia University in New York City from 1970 to 2003, where he earned his doctorate in art history.
He was consultant to the Kemper Foundation for The Corps of Discovery, the monument to Lewis and Clark in Kansas City, Missouri, unveiled in 2000. As consultant to the National Black Catholic Congress, he designed and supervised the execution of the sculpture program, a Sacra Conversazione (holy conversation), for Our Mother of Africa Chapel, the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, Washington, D. C., 2001.
Dr. Reynolds is the recipient of ArtWatch International’s Frank Mason Prize, 2012, for “…his preservation of our cultural patrimony,” and in 2016, The Polish American Veterans Association awarded him the Paderewski Medal for his book on Andrew Pitynski. In 2018, he was elected a Member Emeritus of The National Sculpture Society, and in 2020 he was awarded the Society’s 2020 Sculpture House Award “in recognition of his extraordinary encouragement of and contributions to American Sculpture, and in acknowledgment of his support of the National Sculpture Society.”