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Illumination magazine.
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Grill’s statue of Ford will be unveiled later this year at a ceremony in the U.S. Capitol.

With the consent of Congress, Grill’s Ford will replace Charles H. Niehaus’ marble statue of Zachariah T. Chandler, a 19th century merchant and U.S. Senator who is remembered today chiefly as one of the founders of the Republican Party.

When completed later this year, the Ford statue will be unveiled during a ceremony in the Rotunda and displayed there for up to six months. It will then be moved to a permanent location in the Capitol as designated by Congress’ Joint Committee on the Library.

“When you walk around the rotunda of the Capitol building, there are all sorts of histories on display there,” Grill says. Not all are worth celebrating, he adds, especially those that depict violence against American Indians.

“Some of them are embarrassing. In particular around the Rotunda there are a couple of friezes with Native American themes that are really embarrassing and kind of horrifying in a way. It’s interesting for me to be involved in a project that’s going to put something in a space like that. One of the things I really love about this country is that those things are still on view; the histories they record haven’t been blotted out because we’re embarrassed by them.”

Gerald Ford, on the other hand, left nothing for the nation to be embarrassed about, though he had his detractors while in office. As president, Ford was assailed for economic policies that critics said contributed to a worsening bout of “stagflation” — rising prices coupled with high unemployment and stagnant economic growth. During Ford’s tenure the Vietnam War ended ignominiously, with harrowing scenes of packed American helicopters leaving Saigon while desperate South Vietnamese officials and their families looked on in despair. And, most famously, Ford was lambasted by those who felt betrayed by his pardon of Nixon, a move some said smacked of a secret quid pro quo.

But just minutes after handing over the reigns of power in January 1977, a kinder view of Ford began to emerge. "For myself and for our nation, I want to thank my predecessor for all he has done to heal our land," said Ford’s successor Jimmy Carter. Years later, at a memorial service for Ford at Grace Memorial Church in Grand Rapids, Mich., Carter recalled those words as he recounted the bond of respect and friendship he and Ford established in subsequent years.

“For my own benefit, while I was president, I kept him fully informed about everything that I did in the domestic or international arena,” Carter said. “In fact, he was given a thorough briefing almost every month from the head of my White House staff or my national security adviser. And Jerry never came to the Washington area without being invited to have lunch with me at the White House. We always cherished those memories of now perhaps a long-lost bipartisan interrelationship.”

At a eulogy delivered in Washington, Henry Kissinger also spoke of Ford’s winning civility. “Unassuming and without guile, Gerald Ford undertook to restore the confidence of Americans in their political institutions and purposes. Never having aspired to national office, he was not consumed by driving ambition. In his understated way, he did his duty as a leader, not as a performer playing to the gallery. Gerald Ford had the virtues of small-town America: sincerity, serenity and integrity. As it turned out, the absence of glibness and his artless decency became a political asset, fostering an unusual closeness to leaders around the world, which continued long after he left office.”

It is this aspect of Ford’s personality, the gracious man who set his ego aside in service to the nation, that captivated Grill. “This was the story I wanted to tell with the sculpture,” he says. “Someone who was the healer of a nation; somebody who wasn’t seeking a position of power, but when his country asked he stood up and served with dignity and honor.”

Grill began the task by mining archival material on Ford to determine how the former president physically occupied the space around him. “I went to the photos to grasp the way he carried himself, his body type. Within the particular language of movement that he had, I looked for other elements that would support the story I wanted to tell.”

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Published by the Office of Research.

©2009 Curators of the University of Missouri. Click here to contact the editor.

 

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