As it were

Statue honors notable Ohioans


An acquaintance of mine regularly gives tours of downtown Columbus for residents and visitors alike. In passing, it was recently mentioned to me that when stopping on the Statehouse lawn at the statue of the matronly Cornelia proudly saying, "These are my jewels," in reference to the seven Ohioans arrayed below her, the usual question is, "Who is Cornelia?"

Classical education is not what it once was. There was a time -- not all that long ago -- when school-children learned at least a few stories from Greek and Roman history. Among them was the story of Cornelia and her jewels.

It should be noted that most historians consider the story of "the jewels" to have been invented by a later writer to make a great lady look even greater. And I suppose it did just that.

Cornelia was not accustomed to wear jewels or fine clothing. On one occasion, a number of her wealthy friends stopped by and showed her the new and expensive clothing and accoutrements they had recently acquired, and Cornelia duly complimented them on their taste and style. They then inquired as to where Cornelia's finery might be. Thinking quickly, she left the room, returned with her children and said, "These are my jewels."

Cornelia was a real person. Her full name was Cornelia Scipionis Africanus. She lived from about 190 to 100 B.C. and was the daughter of Scipio the Great, the Roman general who defeated Hannibal at the Battle of Zama.

Accustomed to wealth and power, she married a patrician named Tiberius Gracchus and was the mother of 12 children. It says something about life expectancies in those days that only three lived to maturity. Her sons Tiberius and Gaius were two pivotal figures in the late years of the Roman Republic. When Cornelia died, the city of Rome erected a statue in her honor.

To understand the statue on the Statehouse lawn, we have to move forward about 2,000 years. To celebrate the 400th anniversary of the arrival of Christopher Columbus in 1492, a World Columbian Exposition was planned in the city of Chicago. It was a massive undertaking and actually did not get fully underway until 1893. The exposition would show the best of America to our own country and to visitors from around the world. Plans were made to construct an Ohio Pavilion at the fair to showcase the state and the products of its people.

As plans went forward, Gen. Roeliff Brinkerhoff had an idea. A founder and officer of the Ohio Archeological and Historical Society, Brinkerhoff thought a set of statues of notable Ohioans based on the story of Cornelia would make a nice addition to the Ohio Pavilion in Chicago. The task of creating the statue was given to Ohio artist and architect Levi Tucker Schofield.

As it appeared in Chicago, the monument had Cornelia presenting six notable Ohioans of the Civil War era to a waiting world. They were Gens. James Garfield, Ulysses S. Grant, Philip Sheridan and William Tecumseh Sherman, as well Secretary of War Edwin Stanton and Treasury Secretary Salmon P. Chase.

At the conclusion of the exposition, the monument was brought back to Columbus and erected on the Statehouse lawn. However, it now held seven statues rather than six. Gov. William McKinley, himself a Civil War veteran and soon to be a president, moved to have a statue of his old commander, Gen. and Gov. Rutherford B. Hayes, included in the group.

With an occasional cleaning and sprucing up, Cornelia and her jewels have been on the Statehouse lawn ever since.

It should be noted that while These Are My Jewels was the first piece of public art to be placed on the Statehouse lawn, it is not the oldest. The statue of Christopher Columbus on the south part of the lawn is a bit older, having been created in 1892 for the Pontifical College Josephinum in Columbus. It was moved to the Statehouse grounds in 1992.

Over the last century or so, a wide variety of artistic representations of Ohio and its people have been added to the Statehouse lawn. Some are quite realistic representations. Others are more abstract. All are well worth a visit.

As to older public art in general in Columbus, historians of Goodale Park note that the south gates were sculpted in the 1870s and the bust of Lincoln Goodale was completed in 1888.

To conclude, it should be noted that there may be even older pieces of public art around the city, depending on how one defines such things. A gargoyle on an old church, a lawn ornament in a backyard garden, or a banner on a back wall might be considered public art. After all, as is often said, art, like beauty, is in the eye of the beholder.

Local historian and author Ed Lentz writes the As it were column for ThisWeek News.