As an art historian, I have studied the significance of objects such as banners, statues and paintings, keeping in mind that the meaning of significance is not "is it important?" but rather "what sign does it give?"
A Raphael painting of the Madonna gives the sign of the holy bond between mother and child. The Daniel Chester French statue of Abraham Lincoln seated in his Washington memorial gives the sign of mindful repose.
But the sign an object gives is not merely in the eye of the artist. It, like beauty, is also in the eye of the beholder, and the meaning of signs is subject to change. A once-obscure battle flag has been soaked with bloody hatred and used to deny the holy charge that we love one another.
Yet now there are charges that many objects in public spaces around the commonwealth give a sign that does not nurture the values of justice, freedom and peace. There are cries that they should be removed, notably the art deco sculpture of Jefferson Davis standing in the Capitol Rotunda.
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As a member of the Historic Properties Commission, I was one of those charged with determining its fate. I decided the entire matter was beyond my modest abilities to cope and so, whether in an act of cowardice, or as a profile in courage, I resigned from that commission.
I ask that you think on this: there is a statue of a man standing in the center of the Rotunda, a man who said "with malice toward none; with charity for all" let us "bind up the nation's wounds ... to do all which may achieve and cherish a just, and a lasting peace, among ourselves, and with all nations."
Recall the inspiring words of that great Kentuckian, Lincoln of Hodgenville. As you consider the issues before us, may I ask that you also consider the signs we may give in life.
Give with an open hand, that you may receive generosity in return. Seek with a loving heart that what you find is the sign of love.