Decision Reached on Stephen Foster Statue


Stephen Foster statue at Schenley Plaza

After a decision yesterday afternoon, the controversial Stephen Foster memorial in Schenley Plaza may soon find itself needing to move.

The city’s Art Commission voted unanimously to counsel the mayor that the statue be shifted from its current position. Commission members did not recommend either adding signage to the statue or destroying, but they all agreed that the location of the statue was problematic. This decision is mostly in line with public opinions voiced during a meeting earlier this month. Local artist Sarika Goulatia, who is on the commission, said “I think it would be a great conversation for the next generation and art historians to go and study it in a place where they can really understand why the statue was removed, why it was made in the first place, and what was wrong with it.” At this point in time, both the Carnegie Museum and Pitt have said they are not interested in hosting the statue, so it is not clear where the statue could be relocated. Ultimately, Mayor Bill Peduto will decide what happens to the sculpture.

The Stephen Foster sculpture was created by the Italian artist Giuseppe Moretti in 1900. It was financed by  the Pittsburgh Press and designed by such notable figures as the banker Andrew Mellon at the time of its construction. The Pittsburgh Press earned the money to fund the statue by running a subscription and pledge drive in which even children donated. Originally erected in Highland Park, it was moved to Schenley Plaza in the 1940’s after numerous acts of vandalism. Over the years, the sculpture has attracted increasing amounts of criticism for its portrayal of “Uncle Ned” the black man at Foster’s feet. He is shown in a caricatured fashion, with poor clothes and gaps in his teeth, and is supposedly inspiring the songwriter. But the portrayal has long been considered offensive, and many question why the figure was included as part of the monument in the first place.

Foster is considered the first of the great American songwriters to sympathize with the suffering of slaves and the treatment of African-Americans in the U.S. Given that alone, it seems to be time for his out of character memorial to find itself a new home.