Visible symbols of history and traditions are important for institutions like a university where there is a constant turnover of a large portion of the community. However, alumni, staff and visitors as well as students are reminded of benefactors and the contributions of significant personnel from portraits, statuary, memorial plaques and naming of campus sites. Duke University is fortunate to have exceptional examples of outdoor statuary to honor those who have made worthy contribution to its history.
Washington Duke, who began the family's tie to Trinity College with a donation of money for buildings and endowment in 1890, is memorialized by a unique seated statue on East Campus. After Duke's death in 1905, a spontaneous movement developed among friends to honor him. Organizers from Richmond, Virginia signed a curiously worded contract for "a seated bronze statue, size as if standing 7 feet" with native sculptor Edward Virginius Valentine. Known as "the South's greatest sculptor," Valentine then sixty-seven years old, had studied abroad in Paris, Florence and Berlin. He returned home to Richmond in 1865 to launch a career memorializing famous southerners. Even in an impoverished region, he had commissions from as far as Lexington, Kentucky (Vice-President John C. Breckinridge), New Orleans (John James Audubon) and Richmond (Thomas Jefferson as well as many Confederate heroes). His most famous statue is the recumbent Robert E. Lee in Lee's Chapel, Washington and Lee University. Valentine's studio is part of the respected Valentine Museum in downtown Richmond.
In West Campus, James B. Duke, son of Washington Duke and creator of The Duke Endowment and founder of Duke University, is memorialized larger than life by Charles Keck. Keck, son of German immigrants, was born in New York City where he studied at the National Academy of Design before continuing his education in Greece, Italy and France. He was assistant to Augustus St. Gaudens from 1893 to 1898. Keck's work is described as being in the classic tradition of Gaudens but one critic noted that Keck often added "his own touch through nervous movement and veristic details." His inclusion of the characteristic cigar and the slight movement evident in the use of a cane in Duke's statue appear to be such signature touches. Keck also carved the three Duke marble sarcophagi in the Memorial Chapel and the nearby bronze statue to the three Presidents of the United States from North Carolina in the Capitol Square in Raleigh. Keck's work is exhibited in at least sixteen states and two foreign countries. Perhaps the most visible of his works is a statue of Father Duffy in Times Square in New York City. Additional well known and unique statues of his include Booker T. Washington in Tuskegee, Alabama and a young Abraham Lincoln in Wabash, Indiana. Keck's son, Charles, earned AB and MD degrees from Duke in 1949 and 1953.
The sculptor most frequently represented on campus is an alumnus, Franklin Creech, AB 1964. Creech attended Duke on a football scholarship, earning his varsity letter on ACC championship teams. After an art major at Duke, Creech earned a masters degree at Florida State University. Through the years he has taught in public schools, community colleges and colleges and universities, including Duke, in North Carolina. Since 1977 he has operated a complete foundry workshop in his hometown of Smithfield, NC that houses welding, woodworking, stained glass, pottery, drawing and painting studios.
Creech's contributions to his alma mater are numerous. The department of athletics first commissioned him to make a bronze bust of Wallace Wade. The likeness was so successful and admired that additional commissions followed with mounted busts of William D. "Bill" Murray, Edmund M. "Eddie" Cameron, and John Wesley "Jack" Coombs now marking athletic facilities named in their honor. Creech also produces a 10 inch replica of the statue of the Sower on East Campus for the university's office of development. This replica is the symbol of the Founders' Society which recognizes major donors to university endowments. To date over seven hundred of the personally crafted replicas have been presented to significant donors. Creech also has crafted a bronze Blue Devil that the president of the university presents in recognition of extraordinary volunteer service to Duke. It is gratifying that the popular sculptures in the athletic sector of the campus and the much appreciated symbols of gratitude for a vital continuing relationship to the university are the product of an alumnus.
© 1993. William E. King, University Archivist, 1972-2002
This article is reprinted from If Gargoyles Could Talk: Sketches of Duke University by William E. King. Carolina Academic Press, 1997.
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