By Meg Dedyne
Listen Up, Lansing staff reporter
“Statues, what statues?” was what Kaylee Mead, legislative aide to State Rep. Tom Leonard, (R-DeWitt) said when asked about the historical statue pieces located on the front lawn of the Michigan State Capitol.
“I have never noticed any statues before and I walk past them everyday,” Mead said. “I don’t know if anyone really notices them because we are all just focused on what we have to do for the day.”
Michigan State University advertising junior Ben Grider said he grew up in this area and had taken many trips to the state Capitol in grade school but does not remember any of the outside ornaments being explained in his tour.
“I definitely have noticed the statues before because I thought that they were interesting but I never have known what they mean or why they are there,” Grider said. “ I think some students might notice them but I doubt anyone pays much attention to them.”
Austin Blair is the subject of the statue right down the front walkway of the Capitol Building and was chosen for this spot because he was the governor of Michigan during the Civil War, according to Phil Goodrich, legislative director to Leonard. He is the only governor that has ever had a statue in front of the Capitol.
“The newest addition to the Capitol lawn are two cannons on either side of the front steps,” Goodrich said. “Two cannons had been there before the war and were removed so there were people who wanted to see them put back.”
The veterans of Michigan were very involved with the statue of Austin Blair that sits out front of the building because of Michigan having the highest number of men fighting out of the northern states during the Civil War, according to Valerie Marvin, the Michigan state Capitol historian.
“We give very careful consideration to a lot of groups when deciding what statues to have displayed in and around the capitol,” Marvin said. “The Civil War plays an influential part in the statues on the front lawn.”
Marvin said that the newly-added cannons were a way to capture the overall atmosphere of the Capitol.
“Relatively the Capitol in its entirety is a memorial to the Civil War,” Marvin said. “The Civil War was basically the first instigator for American bureaucracy. There was always readily-made cast iron, which was the purpose of the cannons; to replicate that feeling.”
Other MSU students who have toured the Capitol picture a much different scenic view standing in front of the Capitol than what it offers now, according to MSU advertising senior Olivia Weber.
“Instead of statues, I would picture a fountain in front of our Capitol building,” Weber said. “I would picture plants and flowers and lights surrounding the fountain to make it visible to visitors.”
Weber said she thinks a more appealing attraction to visitors would make more sense in order to display an impressive building to those coming to Lansing.
“I also think having something right in front of the Capitol would make more sense,” Weber said. “The statues are kind of to either side of the lawn so people aren’t paying attention to those areas as much.”
According to Marvin, the Michigan State Capitol started a trend of fashionable capitols in other states. It was one of the first capitols that was built in a modern way and soon after that, other states started following suit.
“People made it a point to visit Michigan’s Capitol building when designing their own because of the standards that were set for it,” Marvin said. “Our Capitol dome was seen as a symbol.”
On the other side of Austin Blair is a statue called the hiker, which represents the Spanish-American War, according to Marvin. This same exact statue exists in 48 other places across the country.
“Because these exist so many different places, the hiker is actually used to test acid rain,” Marvin said.
Mead said she has interned and worked at the Capitol for three years now and has never really given the statues much thought about what they mean or why they are there.
Jamie Draper, the Gerald R. Ford Presidential Library and Museum registrar, said that exhibits, projects and statues should fit the scope of the museum or landmark that they are trying to portray.
“It depends on the project, but most statue projects want to convey character traits and capture movement in its entirety,” Draper said.
A lot of statue projects are funded by a certain party or patron and many have competing artists who are biding for the job, according to Draper who has been the museum registrar for more than 12 years. It is a thorough process and sometimes starts with many statues that have to be narrowed down to one or a couple.
Draper said those who are a part of the historical statue process hope that the artists can portray character traits that have a timeless appeal and that are approachable.
“Statues are meant to draw visitors into a space and want to learn more about the history of it,” Draper said. “Many of the issues we used to deal with are still relevant today and people need to be reminded of this.”