Toppled Jefferson Davis statue on display at The Valentine
Just over two years ago, people mobilized to protest social and racial injustices in response to the murder of George Floyd. Some of them vandalized and toppled monuments to Confederate leaders, including one of Jefferson Davis on Richmond’s Monument Avenue. Now, the same statue is on display at The Valentine in downtown Richmond.
In displaying the statue, The Valentine confronts its past. The museum’s first president, Edward Valentine, designed the statue before it was erected on Monument Avenue in 1907.
Valentine was a prominent sculptor in Virginia, known for his representations of Presidents George Washington and Thomas Jefferson. He also used his artwork to promote the “Lost Cause” narrative of the Confederacy.
Some Richmond residents questioned whether the statue should be on display at all, as it runs the risk of honoring Davis.
However, in a survey conducted by The Valentine, 80% of respondents said they believe that the former Confederate monuments belong in a museum with proper context. The Black History Museum of Virginia, which owns several former monuments, loaned the statue to The Valentine.
In the center of the museum’s main room, Davis lies covered in graffiti and damaged from his fall — with a large gash in his upper right arm and a severely smushed face. Tufts of toilet paper clump to the pink paint around his neck, where a noose placed by protestors formerly hung.
Curator Christina Vida said to reporters on Wednesday that the statue was left in its 2020 state, with only minor work being done to preserve the bronze from further decay, to ensure that people will get the right message. She said these details help to tell the full story of the statue and Richmond across the past two centuries.
“We just thought that this display technique was going to be critical to making sure that folks understand this object not as a man standing up looming over passersby on Monument Avenue, but as a storytelling object for the social justice movement that took place here in Richmond in 2020,” Vida said.
To provide additional context about Valentine and his work with the Lost Cause movement, which sought to glorify former Confederate leaders who openly argued for white supremacy, the Museum is currently working on an exhibit featuring his old studio in the building. The exhibit will feature original plaster copies of some of his works, including pieces that advanced the Lost Cause narrative.
The bust of Davis from his statue as well as racist caricatures of enslaved people that Valentine made are a part of this collection. Valentine’s other works that supported the Lost Cause narrative include many other Confederate statues, like the one of Robert E. Lee removed from Statuary Hall in the Capitol in 2020.
As for the Davis statue, it will be on display at the Valetine for at least the next six months before returning to the BHMVA. Admission to The Valentine is also free on Wednesdays for the duration of the exhibit.