Beauty queens for Sacagawea

Miss Representation and Miss Informed promenade the Downtown Mall seeking 500 signatures for a petition to correct the portrayal of Lewis and Clark guide Sacagawea in the statue at Ridge and West Main. "We object to the sexist and inaccurate representation," says Miss Informed (Kelly Silliman). "She'd never cower." Miss Representation (Jen Hoyt-Tidwell) has spoken before City Council, and the pair want due respect for and a proper accounting of the woman who, despite toting a newborn baby, assisted the L&C expedition to the Pacific.

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13 comments

Please consult the original Lewis and Clark journals and scholarly research on the subject of Sacacawea before making modern judgements of her and her life. Our only "factual" information about her comes from the original journals. There are many fictionalized versions of her in the literature and speculation seems to be the accepted norm. We can't even agree on how to pronounce her name and we have different accepted spellings as well!

Thank you for your interest and for engaging in discussion. We are not judging the art, kind friends. We are asking the city to add contextualizing plaques around the statue acknowledging the controversy that has surrounded this statue for so long, and giving more information about the Corps of Discovery to explain why Sacagawea should not have been depicted crouching behind the explorers when she was their guide and translator. Uncontextualized public art constitutes tacit agreement in my opinion. The sculptor himself said he put her behind them so she wouldn't compete with them. Ugh.

To some extent it's true, a piece of art is a piece of art. To each his own interpretation. But when a piece of art claims to be depicting history - a moment, an era, an event - the truth and accuracy of that depiction become important. Don't get me wrong, there is still plenty of consternation over the "truth" of history, but some things are pretty certain. One of those things is that Sacagawea was an essential member of the Corps of Discovery, not a helpless woman cowering behind two men. (And in saying that I don't intend to downplay the importance of the men either - one doesn't discount the other.)

Purely as a piece of art, I think the statue is lovely. But as citizens of a city that prides itself on its history, shouldn't we question inaccurate depictions of that history? And demand that the history we present be as truthful as possible?

We put Sacajawea on the dollar coin. What's the problem. You want to put up a plaque to tell people that one of the most famous woman in US history needs to have her place in history established on a new plaque that 99.9999% of the people who will pass by it will never read. Do you really think that few people who figure out who is on the statue, will suddenly go " well look at Sacajawea, squatting behind Lewis & Clark. Everything I have read about her must not be true."

Love the passion of the ladies but this is still pretty silly.

WTF: that's an interesting leap of logic, that putting someone on a coin automatically means we have a thorough knowledge of their place in history. Andrew Jackson's on our $20 bill; does that mean everyone knows about his role in the Cherokee removal?

Representation is an important issue, particularly in a town like Charlottesville, which, as the Petition Signer above said, prides itself on its history. I don't see how it benefits the town in any way to depict that history in a biased and inaccurate fashion.

Speaking for myself, and not for the Historical Society of which I am the director:

Without taking sides in a political debate, it's important to acknowledge that the Lewis and Clark statute, with Sacagawea huddled submissively behind one of the male figures, was very much a product of its time. Such heroic, triumphalist monuments were commissioned in a time when manifest destiny and white supremacy were dominant ideologies of American life, if not the law of the land.

The statue, nonetheless, like the contemporaneous local statues of George Rogers Clark, Robert E. Lee, and Stonewall Jackson, is an undeniably impressive work of art, however wrongheaded we may find its message today.

Maybe the solution would be to place the statue in juxtaposition with a new one honoring Sacagawea and York, Clark's enslaved African who was an important part of the mission, and just as neglected a figure.

I'm all for contextualizing monuments like these with images, texts and objects offering an alternative voice. Only by confronting our history head-on can we hope to learn anything from it.

When the statue was commissioned the sculptor want to make Sacagawea more apparent. The patron (Paul Goodloe McIntire I think) only want Lewis and Clark, they were the hometown heros after all. The sculptor pleaded to place Sacagawea but ultimately included her crouching because he placed her there on his own dime. McIntire allowed it because the price of the commission remained the same.

It is a silly thing to protest this and in many ways most welcomed.

I'm not sure we should judge generations-old art by our modern, more enlightened standards. Nor should we consider a statue a history text. Seems like a relatively silly cause.

Well, of course, Rich. One of them is named silliman...which I'm surprised she hasn't changed to silliwoman

Douglas,

It is true that the statue, as is, represents a real historical attitude and I think the statue serves a purpose in terms of inspiring dialogue about these issues of diversity. Thanks for that great suggestion. I think the protesters were merely asking for a plaque of some kind to clarify the important role she played; however if statues for Sacagawea and York could be added in Charlottesville then I feel that would indeed be a great opportunity to add greater context and depth to the protrayal of our local history.

Any local donors willing to come forward to fund such an endeavor? Maybe Art in Place (although usually focused on more modern art) could sponsor a contest?

Lonnie

If she wasn't there at all would that make it ok? What about all the other people who went along? Should Jefferson be there? He sent them out there after all. When one is going "west" do you suppose the guide is really walking in front of everyone all the way? Or do you suppose they wake up every morning and point?

You could write a book, and I'm sure someone has, about all of the historical inaccuracies/omissions from that or any statue. It doesn't mean you need a plaque to point it out.

uccellina-Is this about being an american Indian because if it is a plaque isn't going to make it better.
I still say a plaque no one reads does nothing to elevate Sacajawea in history. A meaningless gesture to the PC poice.

Would it bother anyone if someone erected a placque? If so, why?