As noted earlier, during the conceptual process, I constantly struggled with Larry over the political correctness of the history panels that he was creating. It seems strange for someone born and raised in the East Alabama Black Belt, but apparently Larry had this compulsion to ennoble the Indians, to aggrandize the oppressed slaves, and even to champion the Civil Rights participants who played parts in the various eras we were depicting. His affinity for these groups would be apparent in every scenes he composed, and I would constantly admonish him that he had crossed this or that political boundary. It was tough on me, being a WASP of the first order, and I was constantly forced to warn him, “That’s not politically correct and your patron is a political animal.”
Larry’s prejudice was first exposed in the Exploration and Settlement tablet when I noted that there was not a single pioneer or log cabin to be found in his initial version of the panel. Everywhere there were noble Indians with peace pipes and pious faces. The Spanish explorers in the upper scenes were warlike with brandished swords. The Spaniards were even shown with a cannon so large it could not have made it past the landing beach where DeSoto came ashore–much less through the 1000 miles of swamps and mire leading to a camp beside the Maxwell AFB bluff. I finally prevailed on Larry to add white settlers, but he retaliated by depicting the settler’s wife with an outrageous décolletage. The cannon is still there threatening the Indians and causing every school boy who sees it to wonder how the Spaniards could have hauled it there.
In the Antebellum Era tablet, he filled one-half of the 4’ x 8’ tablet with tyrannized but angelic slaves, all planting and cooking and singing. Larry’s rendition of the traditional southern plantation mansion was Victorian style. He made the plantation owner look like a black man, his wife a mulatto. Alongside that pair stood two southern belles, supposedly daughters of the planter, who looked more like Bourbon Street harlots than demure southern girls. “Oh my!” I exclaimed to Larry, “this just will not do”, and we set off on another confrontation. I managed to get columns onto the plantation house, but the two ladies of the night were ultimately cast in bronze. The heritage of the plantation owners is still suspect.
On his Civil War/Reconstruction tablet, Larry reversed character and portrayed a carpetbagger in each top corner. One of these was obviously a black and he was shown holding a deed certainly stolen from some downtrodden white family. “That might be true,” I admonished our sculptor, “but that’s a political disaster!” Larry just would not change it. When the finished product came back from Colorado, the man still looked Negroid. In desperation I told Dr. Bronner that the figure was James Hale, an ex-slave who built all kinds of things around Montgomery after the war. Bronner said, “Great! I like to show builders!”
On our plaque entitled The Age of Advancement, I had persuaded Larry to show Dr. Luther Hill, a Montgomery surgeon who had supposedly performed the world’s open-heart surgery in 1902. Larry did just that, and with artistic fervor illustrated the doctor holding up a heart with its entrails hanging down. “Damn, Larry!” I fairly exploded, “Dr. Hill did not cut the man’s heart out–he only sewed it up. You have depicted a fiend, and the Hill family will be terribly upset. That will upset Bronner and he will upset me. That must be fixed.” Larry begrudgingly scraped off the heart and substituted something that looks like a sack with something in it. I dare not say, but I believe it’s a sack with a heart in it. By the way, Dr. Hill’s operation took place on the very ground occupied by our 777 Lawrence Street office building.
There was some issue or other on every one of the seven era-tablets. On the World at War panel, Larry planted country singer Hank Williams as the dominating figure in the tablet’s primary segment. As Larry said as justification, Hank’s cowboy hat and guitar make nice elements to sculpt. Hank is still there, but John Gandy and I managed to persuade our artist to move him to the side and allow symbols of World War II to form the central theme.
The Hand of God
It was dangerous to leave Larry alone with his creations down in his Brundidge warehouse turned into a studio. After we would give our sanction to a phase and depart, Larry could not resist improving something. For instance, after Gandy and I had given our final blessing on the Exploration and Settlement clay, Larry took an obscure, half-hidden figure of an Indian maiden at the very edge of the panel and moved her to the forefront. This particular young woman was bare from the waist up and Larry formed her with such spectacular endowments and attention to detail as to elicit gasps from the group of carpenters and laborers who erected the tablets when they arrived from the foundry. I take back what I said about the cannon–school boys will be captivated by the maiden and not even see the cannon.
Another modification made by Larry Godwin after our final approval was his addition of the “Hand of God” to the Civil Rights panel. His primary characterization for that era was a segment showing Martin Luther King beckoning his followers up the mountain, a scenario probably taken from King’s constant reference to Exodus 3:12 in which God said to Moses, “When thou hast brought forth the people out of Egypt, ye shall serve God upon this mountain.”
Somehow, Larry was not satisfied with King’s hand simply reaching up the mountain, and after Gandy and I had signed off and departed, he added the “hand of God” reaching down from the mountain top to receive King’s. I think Larry copied God’s hand from Michelangelo’s painting entitled “the Creation of Adam”. The additional hand was just too much, but there it was, cast in bronze, when I first saw it. The wags say it’s not God’s hand at all, but is really Lyndon Johnson’s.
In any case, that Larry Godwin was a handful. I could never tell if our conflicts sprang from his admitted reverence for Indian culture, from his apparent guilt over the slavery issue, from his artistic calling, or from his mischievous spirit. Whatever it was, yours truly was ill-prepared for the match.
-Charles Humphries (“Peril and Intrigue Within Architecture”)