Photo by Eli Bricknell

Historical figures on display around campus

THE STATUES OF Sacagawea and Jean Baptiste and York play a vital role in how Lewis & Clark recognizes its origins. The former features Sacagawea looking upward with her son, Jean Baptiste, situated on her back sleeping, while the latter statue features York holding a rifle and staring blankly ahead. 

The Sacagawea and Jean Baptiste sculpture was commissioned in 2004, almost 140 years after LC was founded. The sculpture was created by Glenna Goodare, who famously designed the Sacagawea coin, the Vietnam Women’s Memorial and the Irish Famine Memorial throughout her illustrious career. Goodare sadly passed away in April 2020. 

Her sculpture at LC depicts Sacagawea, an Indigenous woman from the Shoshone tribe who joined Meriweather Lewis and William Clark on their expedition to the Pacific Northwest. The sculpture reflects the idea that Sacagawea was an expeditioner. She is looking onward and  carrying the future (an infant) on her back. Sacagawea’s knowledge of the land, plants and regional languages helped the expedition significantly, as it mitigated some of the dangers they encountered in the West. Only at the end of their journey did Lewis and Clark recognize her as a valuable guide. While Lewis and Clark received around $2,500 and 1,600 acres of land each for their expedition, Sacagawea returned from the expedition with nothing.

In 2007, law student Charles Neal ’07 started to question why York — Clark’s slave that accompanied the expedition — was not a part of LC’s campus. He then started the York Project, which moved toward commissioning a statue of York in order to achieve greater representation for the historical figure. While York had been part of conversations at LC before, this was the first time someone actively pushed for a permanent tribute to him. 

In 2011, LC commissioned Alison Saar to make the York statue, which she titled “York: Terra Incognita” Saar is an artist that has mainly worked in the realm of African American history, and has been commissioned to create other statues such as one of Harriet Tubman and the Great Northern Migration. 

On Tuesday, March 30, the art department hosted a panel where Saar and several LC professors discussed the impacts of public monuments on our understanding of history. The panel discussed how our perceptions of the past can change how we think about the present. Specifically they talked about the “York: Terra Incognita” statue located on the LC campus and the impacts that it has had on our perception of York as a person. 

“York: Terra Incognita” is located on the side of the walkway into the academic campus from Frank Manor House. It is both heroic and hopeful, while also a depiction of a suffering man. The York statue, as the panel discussed, is very haunting to look at. York is holding his shirt and scarred on his bare back is a map of a creek. His back is very important to the symbolism of the statue. Saar said in the panel that she was inspired by pictures of Gordon, a slave who escaped from a Louisiana plantation in 1863, whose back was covered in deep scarring. The scarring on York’s back symbolizes the burden that he carried on the Lewis and Clark expedition.

York is not placed on a pedestal. Instead, he stands on a single rock, surrounded by a number of others. On these rocks are fragmented pieces we know of York, taken directly from Clark’s journals. In a way, these fragmented pieces are all we have left of York — the memories and observations of his oppressor and owner, Clark.

Ultimately, both of these statues open up conversations at LC about our history as an institution and the responsibility we have as students to understand that history. Next time you decide to take a walk around campus, try reading one of the rocks surrounding York, or leave a flower in his hand. These gestures are things that LC students do to show that we care. The Sacagwea and Jean Bapsite statue and the York statue were only commissioned in the last two decades and these statues are just a step in the right direction in accepting what our history means.

“York: Terra Incognita” is located on the side of the walkway into the academic campus from Frank Manor House. It is both heroic and hopeful, while also a depiction of a suffering man. York’s face is less defined than many of the other statues on campus, partly to emphasize that York is a mystery and the little that we know about him comes only from Clark’s journals. The York statue, as the panel discussed, is very haunting to look at. York is holding his shirt and scarred on his bare back is a map of a creek. His back is very important to the statue itself; Saar said in the panel that she was inspired by pictures of Gordon, a slave who escaped from a Louisiana plantation in 1863, whose back was covered in deep scarring. The scarring on York’s back symbolizes the burden that York carried on the Lewis and Clark expedition. 

York is not placed on a pedestal. Instead, he stands on a singular rock, surrounded by a number of others. On these rocks surrounding York are fragmented pieces we know of York, taken directly from Clark’s journals. In a way, these fragmented pieces are all we have left of York — the memories and observations of his oppressor and owner, Clark.

Ultimately, both of these statues open up conversations at LC about our history as an institution and the responsibility we have as students to understand that history. Next time you decide to take a walk around campus, try reading one of the boulders surrounding York, or leave a flower in his hand. These gestures are things that LC students do to show that we care. The Sacagwea and Jean Bapsite statue and the York statue were only commissioned in the last two decades and these statues are just a step in the right direction in accepting what our history means. 

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