Thomas Starr King

Another Moleskine journal, another first page; Sometimes I start with a self-portrait or a poem, but this time I begin with a sketch of a statue of Thomas Starr King. Drawing a statue has its benefits. It doesn’t move, providing a good opportunity to practice the human form. But on a greater level I wanted to sketch this statue because of the man it represents. Starr King is often described as a “fiery orator” and “the orator who saved the nation”. He is credited by Lincoln for keeping California in the Union during the Civil War. Starr King, unlike Lincoln, is far from a household name. And that is exactly why this statue was created in 1931 and placed in the National Statuary Hall collection as a representative of California (along with Father Junipero Serra), just so future generations would remember his name and deeds.  The statue remained in Washington D.C. for 78 years until he was usurped by a stature of Ronald Reagan. A congressman from Orange County pushed for Reagan’s statue to be installed, no doubt unaware of Starr King’s importance to California’s legacy. One argument was that Starr King was not born in California; he was born in New York. Following that line of reasoning, the Serra statue should be removed because he was born in Majorca, Spain. And where was Reagan born? Oh yes, in the state of Illinois. Isn’t politics lovely?

This statue now sits outside on the east side of California’s state capitol building in Sacramento.  How many visitors stroll past this statue and stop to read the plaque about this important California figure? Sketching has taught me to be aware, to notice small details, to explore the backwaters, and to look at statues representing some forgotten someone.


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