The City of Westerville unveiled its newest public art installation on the City Hall Courtyard in June 2018.
Named The American Issue, the sculpture tells the story of Westerville’s role 100 years ago as the intellectual and logistical center for the passage of the 18th Amendment. The constitutional change prohibited the manufacture, sale or transportation of “intoxicating liquors” in the United States. The sculpture was privately funded and donated to the City in spring 2018.
The amendment was championed by the Anti-Saloon League, which moved to Westerville in 1909 because of the City’s “pro-temperance” reputation. It is from Westerville that the Anti-Saloon League printed many thousands of pieces of anti-liquor literature including the weekly publication, “The American Issue.”
Want to learn more? Visit the Anti-Saloon League Museum inside the Westerville Public Library, 126 S. State St. The library’s historians have curated and preserved countless artifacts from the Anti-Saloon League.
ABOUT THE SCULPTURE
Created by nationally renowned artist and sculptor Matthew Gray Palmer, Westerville’s newest public art takes an intentionally symbolic approach.
According to Palmer, the sculpture “embodies the conflict between government regulation and individual freedom and celebrates the historical significance of Westerville as the home of the 18th Amendment to the United States Constitution.”
Learn from the artist himself the significance of the elements:
- The limestone boulder represents the people of the United States, the bedrock of the Nation. The stone is split and divided by a large wedge with quotes printed on opposite sides.
- The design of the quotes on the wedge evokes the news journals of the day and the use of raised lettering is symbolic of the printing presses used to print The American Issue, the official journal of the Anti-Saloon League.
- Balanced atop the wedge is a barrel used to distribute alcohol. The barrel is unraveling, symbolizing the barrel’s inability to “contain” the prohibition conflict even after the passage of the 18th Amendment. The unfurling of the barrel has a slightly helical shape referring to a strand of DNA and the influence of heredity in the disease of alcoholism.
- Water, representing alcohol, perpetually flows from the barrel down both sides of the wedge, over both sides of the issue, symbolizing the complex nature of this social issue.
“The sculpture represents the dualism within each of us as we choose the paths of meaning in our lives, to live fully and freely, with a moral code that minimizes suffering and provides the basis for the betterment of ourselves and our society,” Palmer said in an artist’s statement.
What is “The American Issue?”“The American Issue” is a piece of public art commissioned for the City of Westerville by a Westerville resident. The sculpture is intended to recognize the importance of Westerville in American history as the ‘Home of the 18th Amendment to the United States Constitution.’ In the early part of the 1900s, Westerville was a rural village consisting of a mere 1,500 citizens, many of whom moved to Central Ohio to establish the Anti-Saloon League. Westerville had a substantial impact on a change to the U.S. Constitution, which in turn influenced a tumultuous time in our nation, and the way we live today.
Why was a figurative sculpture selected for this recognition?The Anti-Saloon League in Westerville eventually led to Prohibition, a complex issue that reflected the ongoing struggle between government regulation and personal freedom nationwide. The 18th Amendment eventually became the only amendment to the U.S. Constitution ever to be repealed. “The American Issue” acknowledges Westerville’s unique historic role, and captures the complexity of the Prohibition story.
Who is the artist and how was he/she selected?Matthew Gray Palmer is a renowned artist and sculptor, and we are proud to showcase his latest achievement. Palmer grew up in the Columbus area (with parents remaining in the area) and has many professional connections to the Central Ohio community. A significant portion of his work is on display at the Columbus Zoo, Buckeye Boys Ranch, Wendy’s corporate headquarters and the former Longaberger Basket building. The breadth of his resume, with the significance of his work with U.S. National Parks, provided an opportunity to utilize a nationally recognized artist with local roots who had the mixture of talents necessary for working with the multiple material components of “The American Issue.”
How is the community involved in public art projects?Westerville Parks and Recreation champions public art as part of each park and open space development project. With the renovation and expansion of the Westerville City Hall Courtyard project, Westerville City Council approved the addition of public art in historic Uptown Westerville as part of the project. Conceptual planning began in 2012, with content published in City publications and on display at the Westerville Community Center. Learn more about public art in Westerville.
How were the quotes on the wedge selected?The artist/sculptor, Matthew Gray Palmer joined by Westerville residents Beth Weinhardt (Westerville Public Library/Anti-Saloon League Historian), Joe Meyer (Former and longtime Westerville Public Opinion editor), Bill Merriman (President, Westerville Historical Society), Laura Ball (Westerville Parks & Recreation), and Bruce Bailey (Westerville resident/City of Westerville Law Director), together formed a committee to advance the project. The committee selected the quotes based on their historical significance during the Prohibition era.