It seems you can’t throw a rock in Washington without hitting a statue of some sort. There are so many ideas, events, and people (actually mostly white men) that we want to memorialize.
But the work of one person seems to show up from one end of town to the other: It’s Minnesota’s James Earl Fraser. At the Supreme Court is one of my favorites – a statute holding a statue. It’s the Contemplation of Justice. She sits next to the Authority of Law.
Drive downtown you can see what I think is Fraser’s best DC work: The south pediment of the National Archives. The old guy in the center represents the Recorder of the Archives. He’s on a throne that’s sitting on some rams. And above it all is a frieze of papyrus plants – these represent the sources of parchment and paper – the stuff documents were made of before pdf files. On the steps you see his Heritage and Guardianship. Which look rather a lot like the folks sitting in front of the Supreme Court.
If we go over to the front of the Treasury Department, we see Fraser’s Alexander Hamilton. Before Hamilton was a big Broadway star, he was the first treasury secretary. And at the north entrance we see his rendition of Albert Gallatin, the second and longest serving treasury secretary.
Not far, over on the Ellipse is this 18-foot flaming sword held by a right hand. The sword is symbolically stopping the German advance on Paris and it’s a memorial to the more than 17 thousand soldiers of the US army’s Second Division that died in World War I.
But wait, there’s more! By the Lincoln Memorial you’ll find the memorial to the man who invented the screw propeller, John Ericsson. It was dedicated in 1931 by President Calvin Coolidge and Sweden’s Crown Prince Gustaf Adolf.
A few hundred feet away at the entrance to Rock Creek Parkway is Fraser’s huge Arts of Peace. It was cast and gilded in Naples and was a gift to the United States from Italy as a gesture of thanks for our help in their economic recovery following the devastation of World War II.
And if we cross the Potomac River to Arlington National Cemetery, we find two more of Fraser’s works: The grave marker of William Howard Taft, the only person to serve both as president and supreme court chief justice. And the sarcophagus of Robert Todd Lincoln, President Lincoln’s only child to survive into adulthood. He also served as secretary of war.
Fraser also designed the Navy Cross, the buffalo nickel. In the 1920s he served on the US Commission of Fine Arts, an agency that has incredible influence on design and aesthetics of Washington. This plus this tremendous collection of statues makes his contribution to the city truly monumental.