MONTPELIER, Vt. — Gov. James Douglas is doing some tidying up in his office and one thing he thinks can go is a table lamp that sometimes makes him red-faced.
The lamp, installed on his desk recently as part of a Statehouse restoration project, is a replica of a famous 19th century nude statue that cost $2,500 and is plugged into an overhead chandelier.
“The governor does not object to the art,” said Douglas spokesman Jason Gibbs. “It may, frankly, be awkward to explain why there is a nude Greek slave on the governor’s desk to a third-grader.”
Another reason for removing the lamp is its own safety. Gibbs said that during the legislative session, which begins Jan. 5, the governor’s ceremonial office is often crowded and the lamp could be knocked over and damaged.
“We thought that it would be risky for it to remain when so many people use that office during the legislative session and so many student groups come and often sit at or around the governor’s desk,” Gibbs said.
'It’s a wonderful statue'
The lamp is a replica of “The Greek Slave” — a chained female slave crafted by a Vermont artist in 1843 that became an icon of the abolitionist movement before the Civil War.
The woman depicted in the statue, her hair tied back in a bun, is looking downward, a chain attached to her wrists. In the original, her clothes are beside her and a locket and cross are visible.
“It’s a wonderful statue,” said Vivien Fryd, an art historian at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, who has written about the statue. “It was the first time the American public accepted the female nude.”
During a recent staff meeting in the governor’s office, a member of Douglas’ senior staff covered the lamp with a napkin, mimicking the blue drape put over a nude statue in the main lobby of the U.S. Justice Department’s headquarters three years ago.
“It was all in good fun,” Gibbs said.
The ornate office is used heavily while the Legislature is in session, but governors work most of the time out of a suite of modern offices in an adjacent building.
Douglas, a Republican, who was just re-elected to a second two-year term, is no stranger to the Statehouse and its art. He has worked in and around the building for more than 30 years, as a member of the House, an aide to a governor, and as secretary of state and state treasurer.
Statehouse Curator David Schutz said the lamp would be removed from the office during the next legislative session, which runs from January through roughly May. “I am, of course, respecting his wishes. It is, after all, his office,” Schutz said.
He said he didn’t know if the concern was about safety or the nudity. “There hasn’t been much explanation,” Schutz said. “I am fine about that. From our standpoint in interpreting it to the public, during the session it’s a working office.”
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