It recently came to the attention of the St. Thomas – St. John Committee of the Virgin Islands Historic Preservation Commission (VIHPC) that the owners of three iconic bronze statues of V.I. freedom fighters were seeking to donate them to a worthy Virgin Islands-based organization in recognition of the upcoming Transfer Centennial. The three statues are familiar to all of us in the islands.
One of them is the “Freedom” statue, which stands in public parks throughout the territory; the other two are busts of John Gottliff, aka Buddhoe, and D. Hamilton Jackson, which are on public display on St. Croix.
The statues were created by noted Ghanaian sculptor Bright Bimpong, who was commissioned to produce them by Walter G. Brunner of St. Croix, an art collector and political consultant to former governor Roy L. Schneider. Upon Walter’s death, his personal copies of the statues were passed on to his sister and her husband, Carol and Ted Whittier. Through the efforts of Jeffery Nichols in Maine, and Matt Eckstein and David W. Knight Sr. of the VIHPC, Carol and Ted Whittier have now donated the statues to the St. John Historical Society (SJHS) with the agreement that the Society will facilitate the transfer of the pieces to Denmark made possible from donations from organizations and individuals from the U.S. Virgin Islands in recognition of the Transfer Centennial in 2017.
It will be the first time in history that monuments depicting Danish subjects of African descent will be placed on permanent public display in the nation of Denmark. The initiative to send the statues to Denmark, named the “Freedom Project,” is being managed by the St. John Historical Society (SJHS) on behalf of the V.I. community under the guidance of the St. Thomas – St. John Committee of the VIHPC. The SJHS is now reaching out to all Virgin Islands-based non-profit organizations, local businesses and individuals, to solicit support to cover the cost of shipping the statues to Denmark and any additional expenses for the project. Any group, business or individual contributing $200 or more will be included on a sponsor list and be recognized in all “Freedom Project” press releases and promotions throughout the Transfer Centennial year. Of course, all contributions of any amount will be warmly accepted.
Once the statues are in Denmark, they will be taken into the possession of the Museum Vestsjælland, which is a fusion of five state-run Danish museums covering the geographical regions of Holbæk, Kalundborg, Odsherred, Ringsted, Slagelse and Sorø Municipalities on the island of Sjælland, where the capitol city of Copenhagen is located. The Museum Vestsjælland contains eleven locations of exhibitions and is also responsible for all archaeological excavations and conservation efforts of these regions (http://www.vestmuseum.dk/).
The head of the Holbæk Museum, Karen Munk-Nielsen, will be the primary facilitator for the “Freedom Project” in Denmark. She will be in charge of arranging an exhibit for the statues, which will include historic background materials about Denmark’s relationship with the former Danish West Indies (now the Virgin Islands of the United States).
It is hoped that some of the statues will tour various museums and educational institutions throughout the country during the Centennial year. After 2017, the statues will be placed on permanent public display at locations within Denmark. The National Workers’ Museum (http://www.arbejdermuseet.dk/) has already agreed to accept the bust of D. Hamilton Jackson and make it a centerpiece of their collection. It is planned that the “Freedom” statue will find a home at a prominent location within the city of Copenhagen, while the bust of Buddhoe will remain with the Museum Vestsjælland in Holbæk.
I hope that you are as excited as I am to have this opportunity to make such a meaningful contribution to the recognition of the 2017 Transfer Centennial. Feel free to e-mail me at: [email protected] if you have any further questions about the “Freedom Project.” Checks should be made out to the St. John Historical Society (SJHS) with “Freedom Project” in the memo area.
Lonnie Willis, president of the Board of the St. John Historical Society