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Robert E. Lee Statue Comes Down In Richmond


For over 100 years, the towering figure of Robert E. Lee loomed large over Monument Avenue in Richmond, Va., the largest of five Confederate statues. No more. The general and his horse were taken down last week following a yearlong legal battle. The other statues were removed last summer. Plans for what will replace them are still being discussed, but for now, a new time capsule that captures this moment in history will be placed in or around the enormous pedestal that once hosted Lee. Paul DiPasquale created the new time capsule. He's a Richmond-based sculptor, and he joins us now. Hello.


GARCIA-NAVARRO: Can you describe what Monument Avenue looks like right now with all the Confederate statues gone?

DIPASQUALE: It looks like it's missing something at the moment. The Lee pedestal, however, is so grand that it looks like an architectural artifact, especially since you see it with all the graffiti that's on it, left from last summer.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: And this new time capsule you've created - what does that look like, and what is it meant to do?

DIPASQUALE: Well, a time capsule is an exclamation point, I think is the way I describe it, for the end of a monument's life. It's put in because it represents what the public was thinking at the time that the monument was put up. It's pretty exciting dramatically, because when you make a time capsule, it is a gift, really, to the future. It's kind of like planting a tree that you don't get to sit under.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: The old time capsule it's replacing had Confederate-related items in it. And this new one has objects intended to capture this moment in history - the pandemic, the protests for racial justice. What can you tell us about some of those items?

DIPASQUALE: There are a number of artifacts. There is an empty vial of the COVID vaccine. That's one of my favorites. There's poetry. There are pictures of what happened last summer and cover of the National Geographic magazine that showed the monument covered in graffiti, the picture of the two ballerinas who, in their ballerina garb, stood and danced on the monument.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Do you want to see new statues go up where the old Confederate statues were for so long? I mean, what are your hopes for the future of Monument Avenue?

DIPASQUALE: Well, public art is always controversial, and what defines good public art is not necessarily whether people like it. It's more to the case whether it's strong and whether people can debate it and talk about it, and it pulls up people's baggage if it has value as public art that's historical. I think that what's important is that public art reflects the history of the time, which is the present, of course. And the city of Richmond and the state needs to relax with the monuments down. I would prefer they not do anything with the statues but hold them. I don't think the statue should go back up on Monument Avenue, but there may be something to do with the statues that's significant, that can be put in the context of the history that created them.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: That's Paul DiPasquale. He's an artist based in Richmond, Va. Thank you so much.

DIPASQUALE: Well, you're surely welcome. It's a pleasure to talk to you.


GARCIA-NAVARRO: This is NPR news. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.