Augustus Saint-Gaudens (1848—1907), Robert Gould Shaw and the 54th Regiment Memorial, Beacon and Park Streets, Boston, MA, 1884–1897. Bronze, 11 x 14 ft. (3.35 x 4.27 m.).
Credit: Photograph courtesy of Carol M. Highsmith.
THEY GAVE TO THE NATION AND THE WORLD UNDYING PROOF
THAT AMERICANS OF AFRICAN DESCENT POSSESS THE
PRIDE COURAGE AND DEVOTION OF THE PATRIOT SOLDIER."
. . . . . CHARLES W. ELIOT, Inscription on marble surround
What’s so special about The Robert Gould Shaw and Massachusetts 54th Regiment Memorial in Boston and the men it honors? Augustus Saint-Gaudens’ huge monument pays tribute to the Massachusetts 54th Regiment, one of the first African American units to fight in the Civil War. In this lesson students carefully observe and analyze the memorial, read and answer questions about Shaw and the 54th regiment, pose for a photograph like the men in the sculpture, and then create a comic strip featuring one of the heroes of this regiment. If necessary, point out to students that such a comic is not necessarily funny or amusing
Augustus Saint-Gaudens was born in Dublin in 1884 to a French shoemaker and Irish mother. As a baby, his family moved to New York City. At 13 he was apprenticed to a cameo carver. He took free evening art courses at Cooper Union and then studied in Paris at the Academy of Design, and the École des Beaux-Arts. In 1870 he moved to Rome, began his art career, and met Augusta Homer, a cousin of Winslow Homer. They married when he received his first major commission, to create a statue of Admiral Farragut in Madison Square Park in New York.
Augustus Saint-Gaudens’s first idea for a sculpture honoring Colonel Robert G. Shaw was an equestrian statue. But, Shaw’s family rejected it as too pretentious for the 26-year old colonel. Then Saint-Gaudens conceived a bas-relief (“bas” from the French for low) of Shaw with his men. During the twelve years that Saint-Gaudens worked on this memorial, he sculpted 40 clay studies of African American heads but only included 16 in the final sculpture. He bought a horse to use as a model. When it died, he rented another from a stable. The relief of the horse and rider are a freestanding sculpture. Saint-Gaudens’s friend, architect Charles Follen McKim, designed the architectural setting for the bronze sculpture.
Saint-Gaudens included allegorical symbols to suggest this sculpture’s meaning. The angel floating above the soldiers holds an olive branch representing peace and poppies for death and remembrance.
Saint-Gaudens created a steady marching rhythm across the sculpture with the soldiers, horse, and angel facing same direction, moving resolutely to the right. Overlapping figures create a sense of depth and unity. Our eyes pick out and group the repeated shapes.
Distribute copies of Activity 1 Look and Think worksheets and sets of color markers, pencils, or crayons. You may wish to project the full-screen image of the Shaw Memorial for students to reference as they complete and discuss their answers to the worksheet. You may project the Answer Diagram after students complete their worksheets. Use the worksheets to structure careful observation, analysis, and inferences about this sculpture.
OMNIA RELINQVIT / SERVARE REMPVBLICAM
The English translation of this is: “He relinquished everything to serve the Republic.” Write what this means in your own words. Students should understand that Shaw and his volunteers died defending their country.
Have students read the Activity 2 Reading sheet about Robert Gould Shaw and the 54th Massachusetts Regiment. Once students have finished reading, have them answer the Activity 2 Reading Questions sheet. As a whole class discuss the students’ answers to the Reading Questions.
Have students pose together like the figures in the memorial. Photograph them in this pose. Imagine this as “living picture.” Project or print this photo and give one to each table or group of students to look at. Have small groups discuss these.
Guided Discussion Questions:
When small groups have discussed sufficiently, have a whole class discussion.
Create a comic strip about Robert Gould Shaw and the members of the 54th Massachusetts Regiment. Develop one of the men in the memorial into a hero. What characteristics might he have or wish he had? List these characteristics. Discuss with students how they might emphasize a characteristic by drawing some body parts larger or using an unusual viewpoint, like looking up or down at a figure.
From the list of characteristics students should draw a short comic strip showing these heroic or super hero powers. Students should not alter history, but rather demonstrate the characteristics of the soldiers through their drawing. Students who have access to Comic Life computer software may choose to do their comic strip on the computer. A comic strip template has been provided.
The well thought-out comic should
2-3 class periods