If there must be monuments

Sculpture of Rachel Carson by David Lewis, installed at Woods Hole (photo by Laura A. Macaluso, Wikipedia Commons)

To me, they are little more than hunks or granite or marble, carved into forms of varying aesthetic value. Sometimes, monuments can be masterpieces, as with the Roosevelt Memorial in Washington. This truly tells a story, representing an important history through superb narrative art.

Most of the time, though, a monument is just a guy on a horse or a guy standing in an imposing fashion. His arms may be folded or maybe he’s holding a scroll of some kind. This is when you want to look at the plaque, to see if the sculpture is worthy of your trouble. Otherwise, who cares? Oh, and did I forget to say white guy? I know I didn’t forget to say “guy.”

The truth is that representative statues, throughout the US, are generally of noteworthy males or symbolic mythological figures, with a few nods to women and Black/indigenous/people of color. Is it any wonder that many of the more dubious examples are being vandalized or removed? Of all the commemorative statues in the US, roughly eight percent are of women. I think that may be close to the percentage of statues we have representing Columbus, a truly despicable human who discovered nothing and killed many.

If statues of this type were not so overvalued, I wouldn’t care. But they’ve become a thing. If we must have statues, then why not commemorate those who cared for the earth, who valued sustainability, and who wanted a healthy environment for generations of living things to come?

I wondered how many statues of Rachel Carson can be found and saw that one was installed in 2013 at Waterfront Park in Woods Hole, Massachusetts. There is also a seated statue of Marjory Stoneman Douglas at the Fairchild Gardens in Miami. There is a park and a wildflower center named after Lady Bird Johnson (and maybe a bust was completed; I couldn’t tell). I don’t think there is a commemorative statue of Lois Gibbs. Clearly, no great urgency fuels the need to commemorate and celebrate the many women who led efforts to preserve our environment.

I don’t care about statues. But I think too many are caring about the wrong ones and not caring about what’s really important.

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Elizabeth Licata has been a regular writer for  Garden Rant since 2007, after contributing a guest rant about the overuse of American flags in front gardens. She lives and gardens in Buffalo, N.Y., which, far from the frozen wasteland many assume it to be, is a lush paradise of gardens, historic architecture, galleries, museums, theaters, and fun. As editor of Buffalo Spree magazine,  Licata helps keep Western New Yorkers apprised about what is happening in their region. She is also a freelance writer and art curator, who’s been published in Fine Gardening, Horticulture, ArtNews, Art in America, the Village Voice, and many other publications. She does regular radio segments for the local NPR affiliate, WBFO.

Licata is involved with Garden Walk Buffalo, the largest free garden tour in the US and possibly the world, and has written the text for a book about Garden Walk. She has also written and edited several art-related books. Contact Elizabeth: ealicata at yahoo.com


  1. Great article with facts and figures I appreciate knowing dismal may they be
    Now that so many like you described are being taken down more along the line that you described will be built
    Thank you for posting this information

  2. By the way, how did “Rebecca At the Well” get so dadgum popular? There are a jillion trite renderings of that one.

  3. I definitely side with your argument. I think we as a society can get so easily caught up in something or someone that doesn’t really matter in the big picture instead of what matters most.. and to me that is people, relationships and building community in a healthy fashion.

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