Group Wants to Save Vt. Nude Statue

A group preparing to celebrate the life of a Vermont-born sculptor is petitioning Gov. James Douglas (search) to leave a replica of Hiram Powers' (search) most famous work — which portrays a nude chained woman — on his Statehouse desk.

The petitioners, who include the wife of U.S. Sen. James Jeffords (search), say "The Greek Slave" (search) is one of the most important pieces of art ever created by a Vermont native.

The governor wants the lamp that incorporates the replica removed from his office desk during the upcoming legislative session. Douglas spokesman Jason Gibbs said last week the governor was concerned the statue could be broken, but he also said there was concern that school children would see the nude.

Gibbs said Monday the lamp would remain on display at the Statehouse while the Legislature is in session, but not on the governor's desk.

"This wonderful piece of art will continue to enjoy public prominence on display at the Statehouse," Gibbs said. The home of the statue during the session will be determined by the Statehouse curator, Gibbs said.

"We're leaving it to him," Gibbs said.

Liz Jeffords and Polly Billings, wife of a retired federal judge, said they're launching a petition drive to have the governor leave the lamp on the Statehouse desk.

"He was worried about the effect on school children? What better way to teach them about our Constitution, which outlaws slavery," Billings said. "This speaks to Vermont history, abolition and the horror of slavery."

Gibbs said the governor was not concerned about school children seeing the statue. He said his comments last week that it might be hard for the governor to explain a nude statue to schoolchildren were an attempt at levity.

Billings said she was unmoved by the governor's decision to have the statue displayed elsewhere in the Statehouse. "I am going to carry on," she said.

A one-day celebration of Powers' art is planned for his 200th birthday July 29 in Woodstock.

Powers sculpted six versions of "The Greek Slave" between the early 1840s and the late 1860s. The work became a symbol of the abolitionist movement before the Civil War.