Arts News: Truman Returns to Washington

KC artist Tom Corbin puts finishing touches on his statue of Harry S. Truman, which will be placed in the U.S. Capitol in 2022. (photo courtesy of the Truman Library Institute / photo by Mark Mcdonald

Marking the 75th anniversary of Harry Truman’s ascendency to the presidency and coinciding with the much-anticipated grand opening of the redesign of the Truman Library and Museum (both delayed a bit by the pandemic), Harry Truman will soon be joining several of his fellow presidents in the U.S. Capitol.

At this point, planners hope the Truman statue will be placed in the Capitol’s Rotunda, where he would join six other former presidents. But that is yet to be decided, because Harry is replacing Missouri Senator Thomas Hart Benton (great-granduncle of the artist), who, since 1899, has resided in Statuary Hall.

The statue was created by Kansas City-based artist Tom Corbin, whose design was selected from among six invited proposals and four finalists as “best able to capture the essence of our 33rd president” by a committee of Truman family and friends and current and former Truman Institute board members.

Corbin is best known in Kansas City for his statues in the Ewing and Muriel Kauffman Memorial Garden at 4800 Rockhill Road, in the Firefighters Fountain and Memorial at 31st and Broadway, and in the Children’s Fountain at Waterworks Park north of the river on Burlington Street. Earlier this year, his “Roo” sculpture was installed on the campus of UMKC. His work also appears nationally in more than 20 museums and galleries and several private collections.

“Portraying this amazing man through my art to be displayed amidst the sculptures of the nation’s best artists is the highlight of my career,” Corbin said.

He began with a 3-foot model, a maquette. He then modeled in clay each of several parts of the Truman figure, which were assembled by the Crucible Foundry in Norman, Oklahoma. Pending final approval by the Architect of the Capitol and the Joint Committee of Congress on the Library, the 7 1/2-foot statue will be cast in bronze and installed in spring 2022.

Corbin’s Truman is less formal than others in the Capitol. Snappily dressed in a double-breasted suit jacket and tie, he is descending two steps, as if about to greet the viewer. He is hatless, but bespectacled and sporting an inkling of a smile.

Clifton Truman Daniel, who is Truman’s eldest grandson, as well as the Honorary Chair of the Truman Library Institute Board and a member of the selection committee, reports that his family was “delighted and honored” by Corbin’s design. Corbin got it “exactly right,” Daniel explained, and, as he often does when commenting on his grandfather, Daniel reflected on the president’s personal side.

Reminded that Truman’s statue will be mounted on an inscribed pedestal in the Capitol, unsurprisingly Daniel offered an appropriate inscription: “The buck stops here.”

In typical Daniel humor, however, he also referenced a second, less well-known, Truman quote: “I always remember an epitaph which is in the (Boot Hill Graveyard) cemetery in Tombstone, Arizona. It says ‘Here lies Jack Williams. He done his damnedest.’ I think that is the greatest epitaph a man can have.”

For updates on the Truman statue, check the Truman Library Institute website: www.trumanlibraryinstitute.org.

Bryan F. Le Beau

Bryan F. Le Beau is retired from the University of Saint Mary, where he served as Professor of History, Provost, and Vice President for Academic Affairs. He is the author of several books on American cultural and religious history.

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