Friday, July 17, 2015

Confederate Houston - What is to be done to Dick Dowling and the Spirit of the Confederacy?

A public debate is on whether to rename Dowling Street. Why stop with streets? There is more that has be done to commemorate the "victorious commander at the Second Battle of Sabine Pass in the American Civil War" who is "considered Houston, Texas's first prominent citizen and hero." (says Wikipedia about Dowling as of July 2015, though that may change in due course). 

Warrior Dowling also has a statue to his name, erected on the esplanade between Herman Park and the Medical Center. 

Richard aka Dick Dowling Statute in Herman Park 
Dick Dowling Carrara marble statute created by Frank A. Teich in 1905, "a local Civil War soldier" (Herman Park Conservancy). Standing tall on a grey granite pedestal that has the names of Confederate soldiers who participated in the Battle of Sabine Pass inscribed on all four sides.

Not to mention the tribute paid to "The Spirit of the Confederacy" by the winged bronze man on the edge of the pond at Sam Houston Park holding watch over the ducks and the homeless. Okay, the official denomination is "angel with sword and palm branch" and the spiritual reference is to "states rights", in case anyone is wondering. See City of Houston Art in the Parks Page"To All Heroes of the South who fought for the principles of States Rights" (1908). 

There is another piece evoking Houston's history near the full metal dude with the nonfunctional flying equipment, but he is facing away from it: The Enron Swamp, a wildlife habitat in the heart of the city. It is of too recent vintage to yet command historicist attention, not to mention reappraisal of the revisionist kind. But it, too, has an appropriate euphemism. Nothing quite as spiritual, but cute (and more contemporary): Wetland Garden

Perhaps the issue could be handled with updated or additional historic interpretive markers that address the problematic nature of these commemorative monuments, the reason they were erected, and their symbolism. An expanded history lesson, so to speak, rather than a tear-down or destruction of what are - after all - pieces of public art, and artifacts of history (albeit a troublesome history) in their own right. The Dowling marble piece at Hermann Park is already past its centennial. See Dick Dowling Statute - First Public Monument in Houston turns 100 Years Old on St. Patrick's Day. No need for the a modern-day equivalent of a public book-burning. Nor for an effort to compete with footage of the toppling of statutes of Stalin and Lenin, or the Berlin Wall coming down, for that matter.  
On the other hand, there is precedent for just renaming historic structures and adapting them to other purposes, like the shiny Enron Tower that's been nicely rebranded, with the rotton scoundrels sent elsewhere, dead, or reformed, and the corporate contents swapped out. Not to mention that the imposing structure is still as shiny as ever and provides a uniquely distorted reflection of the nearby Downtown skyscrapers. A nice visual bonus for visitors. A different perspective. An appealing one. At least when the sun shines and the sky is blue, even if the ambient heat is unbearable. 

But those were the doings of the private sector;-- the forces at work in the market. Still, there is no reason why the City of Houston couldn't adopt some of the same concepts. Perhaps Dowling could be reclaimed and rebranded into a symbol for Irish immigration, and honored with a green-beer-on-the-lawn party on St. Patrick's Day. Perhaps he could be re-done in green, to mark his resurrection and redemption. He might fit in better with the environs, not to mention with our more enlightened, more sensitive, not to mention more discriminating zeitgeist. 

And the allegorical winged adonis in bronze would lend himself even more readily to reinterpretation. Not to mention that this angel -- unlike the Irishman-in-marble -  isn't even all that white.  Anything but.  
Other links
City of Houston Municipal Art by ZIP Code - Dowling  

Wikipedia entry for Richard William "Dick" Dowling (1837 – September 23, 1867), "victorious commander at the Second Battle of Sabine Pass in the American Civil War, and is considered Houston, Texas's first prominent citizen and hero.").