Kansas City Sculptor Offers Healing Idea For Former Confederate Memorial Site

Nov 13, 2017

Sculptor Spencer Schubert has his works prominently displayed across the region from Manhattan to Jefferson City, and now wants to do something closer to home as a healing gesture for his community.

He’s proposing a soaring sculpture of two hands grasping a knotted rope as a sign of unity to replace a controversial Confederate memorial removed last August from the median of Ward Parkway at 55th Street.

“I’m interested in things that lift people up,” Schubert said, “life is too short for anything else.”

He was sitting in his workplace, E.S. Schubert Sculpture Studios, tucked off an alley behind the Town Topic on Baltimore Avenue in the Crossroads Arts District. An eclectic gallery of busts and sculptures shared the scene.

Among the works is a six-foot tall model of his symbolic hands sculpture, something he’d like to enlarge to 18-feet if the Parks and Recreation Board and other groups overseeing Ward Parkway go along with the idea.

Schubert has created a model of the proposed hands sculpture.
Credit Kevin Collison / CityScene KC

The unifying symbolism of the bronze hands contrasts with the rancor represented by the monument, a “block of stone” as Schubert described it, the United Daughters of the Confederacy had erected along Ward Parkway in the 1930s.

“There is a baked-in divisiveness to a Confederate monument,” Schubert said. “Even if you remove the slavery aspect, we were a union and that was the faction that wanted to be removed from the union.

“Regardless of how you stack it, it’s divisiveness.”

Schubert is a 2000 graduate of the University of Kansas art school, and his been actively pursuing his art since about 2011. That’s when he got his first big commission, creating a bust of Negro League Baseball great Buck O’Neil for the Missouri State Capitol.

His path was not smooth.

Right out of college, he was a singer in the rock band Underhill. After the band broke up, he began sculpting in the basement of his residence at 31st and Charlotte. He then moved into the Arts Incubator at 115 W. 18th St. in 2003, later relocating to his current space.

Schubert's first major commission after graduating from art school was this bust of Buck O'Neil in the Missouri State Capitol.
Credit Courtesy Spencer Schubert

He got industrial-strength experience cranking out concrete fountains and other lawn decorations for the Kansas City Art Statuary company before it went out of business in 2008.

After that, he continued working creating props for ad agencies and commercials.

All the while, he continued pursuing figurative sculpture on the side. His big break with the O’Neil bust was the result of his friendship with former Missouri Representative, now Sen. Jason Holsman. Holsman helped him get the commission.

“I knew I could do it, and finally somebody let me do it,” Schubert recalled.

After the O’Neil bust, a copy is in the Royals Hall of Fame at Kauffman Field, commissions began rolling in and Schubert now has the freedom to think big.

Other prominent works include the Bill Snyder statue outside the Kansas State stadium, a firefighter memorial in West Des Moines, Iowa, and a new bust of Amelia Earhart headed for Atchison.

Schubert hopes the city takes him up on his offer for Ward Parkway.

“I love the figure, I love gigantic things and I love things that bring people together,” he said. “I’m willing to donate everything, except for the cost of the foundry work and installation. It’s now in the Parks and Recreation Department’s court.”

Mark McHenry, director of the parks department, said his staff is reviewing the idea, but added there are other groups involved with managing the aesthetics of Ward Parkway besides the parks board including the Municipal Arts Commission, the City of Fountains Foundation and neighborhood organizations.

“This is something we could consider,” he said, “but before the next step, there’s a process and protocol you have to follow.”

This monument, erected by the United Daughters of the Confederacy, was taken down in Kansas City last summer.
Credit Brian Ellison / KCUR 89.3

Kevin Collison, a freelance contributor to KCUR 89.3, writes about downtown Kansas City for his website CityScene KC.