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Sculptural effects across Cleveland

A leisurely stroll about the City of Cleveland takes one past sculptures large and small, drab and colorful, classic and avant-garde, aged and anew.

Cleveland sculptures: Alexander Hamilton at the County Courthouse entrance
photos by Rick Zimmerman

At the foot of Ontario Street, where that avenue terminates at Lakeside Avenue, sits the grand formal entrance to the four-story Beaux-Arts confection of the Cuyahoga County Courthouse. Against the entrance-flanking piers of its heavily rusticated arcaded base of limestone are seated two of our nation's founding fathers, rendered in cast metal. To the right of the Courthouse entrance is Alexander Hamilton, perhaps perusing some of his seminal writings. His realistic regal figure was created by the Austrian-born sculptor Karl Theodor Francis Bitter.

To the left of that same street entrance is seated a parallel figure of Thomas Jefferson, also crafted by Bitter. Jefferson appears deep in thought, pondering the principles to be embodied in the fledgling government of the new American nation.

Just a short walk east of these two statues lies Willard Park, a modest patch of green at the intersection of Lakeside Avenue and East Ninth Street. (There one can partake of any number of parked diner trucks at a summer midday, as a musical group tunes up nearby.) There one can also contemplate the possible meaning of the city's Free Stamp, created by Claes Oldenburg and Coosje van Bruggen. Though the sculpture was commissioned to occupy a location at the planned BP Headquarters Building at Public Square (now simply 200 Public Square), it seems some BP executives thought the Free Stamp perhaps too cutting of a social comment on the amassing of corporate wealth and the increasing scarcity of a 'free lunch'. So the Free Stamp became homeless for some years, until it finally gained its current park site.

Meanwhile, back at Public Square, popular former Mayor Tom Johnson gazes sternly across Public Square from his perch within the northwest quadrant, near the dark mass of Old Stone Church. Beyond the patina of Mr. Johnson's metal suit, one can also note the deep red stonework of the Richardsonian Society for Savings Building.

Diagonally northeast from Public Square onto Mall C, one can spy the upward-striving figure of the Fountain of Eternal Life, perched atop a roiling globe. This sculpture is dedicated to the many war dead of the Cleveland region, their names inscribed in the polished stone slabs that form the fountain pool's perimeter.

A war memorial from an earlier century marks the southeast quadrant of Public Square, and sits on an axis of view down Euclid Avenue. That memorial is the Soldiers and Sailors Monument, crafted to commemorate the Union dead from the nation's Civil War. Dedicated by President McKinley, the monument by Levi Scofield contains bas-relief scenes of the Cavalry, Navy, Infantry and Artillery branches, ringing a central structure that houses further sculptural scenes among artifacts and memorabilia. Topping all is a 125-foot tall granite shaft bearing the Goddess of Liberty.

Just over a half-dozen miles along Euclid Avenue lies University Circle, Cleveland's constellation of civic, cultural, educational and health institutions. Among the tree-lined greenswards of the Circle, one will encounter yet another majestic seated figure rendered in metal and stone. Here sits the figure of Marcus Alonzo Hanna, businessman, industrialist, politician and all-round fixer.

Back near Public Square stand two fine pieces by Daniel Chester French, creator of the seated figure of Abraham Lincoln within the Lincoln Memorial in our nation's capital. These figures mark the corners of the historic Federal Courthouse on Superior Avenue adjacent to Public Square. Jurisprudence is an allegorical figure that wields the tablets of the law to shield the victims of crime from predation. At the opposite end of the Courthouse, Commerce calmly cradles a globe with one arm, lending support to the nation's industrious.

As we return to Ontario Street near Lakeside Avenue, we see a much more modern interpretation or allegory. Before the City-County Justice Center sits Portal by prominent Japanese-American artist Isamu Noguchi. The simple folded segments of the dark steel mass imply an entranceway and mark the public access point to the varied Justice Center functions.

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