Art in the Archives of Oberlin College

Giles Waldo Shurtleff Monument

Title/Subject: Giles Waldo Shurtleff (American, 1831-1904)
Artist: Emily Ewing Peck (American, 1855-1921)
Date: 1911
Type: statue
Medium: bronze
Location: Former Shurtleff property, 68 South Professor Street, Oberlin
The statue of Giles Waldo Shurtleff is on public display on the former Shurtleff property in Oberlin. The College Archives does not own it, but the Shurtleff Papers is one of the most accessed collections in the Archives.

Sculptor Emily Ewing Peck attended Oberlin sporadically from 1871-77, with additional years in the early 1880s. She married fellow student John Fisher Peck in 1879. He had received both his A.B. (1875) and A.M. from Oberlin and had been appointed tutor of Latin and Greek in the College's Preparatory Department. Emily became seriously interested in sculpture after a two-year visit abroad in the 1890s. She studied first in Geneva and then in Paris, the center for sculptural activity in Europe, where there was a considerable colony of American artists. She joined a studio and had her work accepted for criticism by the great Auguste Rodin.

It seemed to Emily Peck that there were those in Oberlin whose lives represented the ideals she wished to express, and once she committed herself to the work she selected a model for a life size sculpture. She chose her friend Giles W. Shurtleff (A.B. 1859, Graduate School of Theology 1862), then at the end of a long association with the College. While a student in the Seminary and a Latin tutor in the Preparatory Department, Shurtleff had entered the Army in 1861 immediately after Lincoln's request for volunteers. Captain of Co. C, consisting of Oberlin students, he had been captured and spent a year in a prison camp. Following an exchange of prisoners he returned to Oberlin and rejoined the Army. In 1863, the Ohio governor asked Shurtleff, J. B. T. Marsh and John Mercer Langston to organize the first "colored" regiment in Ohio. He became its commander and the regiment took part in the long siege and victory at Petersburg, near the Pennsylvania border. He was then aged thirty-two.
Thirty-five years later, in 1898, he again put on his army uniform and heavy sword and posed during long hot afternoons in Mrs. Peck's studio on Main Street. The statue of the general was to be part of a group. The second figure was to be a young Black man about to take the rifle offered to him by Shurtleff. "The interest which each man has in the other should be shown in the slight inclination of the bodies toward each other, but their supreme interest is in the action to which the general is pointing, to which both are looking." The analogy was to Petersburg, but the intended battle was symbolic. Emily had spent a long time searching through books for a motto that would express her meaning, finally choosing "Freedom cannot be given, it must be achieved."

Locating a model for the second figure which suited her conception proved difficult. In the meantime the clay figure of Shurtleff was cast in plaster and exhibited at the College's Spear Library in September of 1898. At the reception Mrs. Peck had the opportunity to explain what the finished work would look like and she expressed her feeling that it should be in bronze and placed out of doors. That winter she left Oberlin for Chicago to work and study, expecting to complete the group in the near future. Among the portraits executed in the following years were those of President William Harper of the University of Chicago and Jane Addams, founder of Hull House. But the general's companion never appeared.

Shurtleff died in 1904 and his widow decided to make the plaster sculpture permanent. On Memorial Day 1911 the statue in bronze was dedicated. Set on a granite block, it was placed on the lawn below the house that had been his home, overlooking an area intended for a village parkway. There were, no doubt, few who disagreed with Adelia Field Johnston, the authority on art matters at Oberlin, that it was a perfect likeness of Gen. Shurtleff.

But of Emily Peck's original conception there was nothing. She had intended the portrait to be a means to an end but it was now the end itself. Without the second figure the relationship of the carefully chosen phrase to the statue was lost. The sculpture had become a monument to a specific hero. Mysteriously gesturing north, Shurtleff was no longer preceptor pointing to Petersburg and destiny. He assumed rather the position familiar in public sculpture of the 19th century, that of the orator, a remnant of left-over neoclassicism. The left hand which was to have held the rifle, physically uniting it with the other figure, now held an unexplained rolled document.

     Adapted from Marcia Goldberg (Oberlin College A.M., 1973), "Oberlin Public Art: A Statue, the College Seal, a Mural," Oberlin College Archives website, n.d. (removed 2020).
     Records of Graduates and Non-Graduates (RG 28).

Related Collections
     Giles Waldo and Mary E. Burton Shurtleff Papers (RG 30/32)
     Records of Graduates and Former Students (RG 28)
     Oberlin and the Civil War (digital)


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