Fig 2. John Rogers, 1829-1904
|Houdon's sculpture became the prototype for thousands of public monuments placed in parks, museums, libraries, and schools. It even ended up on the quarter. The bronze bust in the Brauer Museum carries on its verso a "certificate and oath" from the New York bronze founder who cast it in 1898, indicating that the work is a "perfect reproduction of the Life-Cast" by Houdon. This assurance of authenticity mattered to patriotic Americans because they wanted "the real thing," an icon of their country's father. This image, like no other, has been the official symbol of American identity for generations because it symbolizes the ideal of heroic self-denial that many Americans have historically wished to serve as the origin of the nation. Washington avoids any expression of emotion because he represents a fusion of individual and type into the single figure of the archetypal national hero. He does not call attention to himself, but to the nobility of virtuous deeds, those that create the national character that John F. Kennedy had in mind when he urged Americans not to ask what the country could do for them, but what they could do for their country.|
2. A recent study of American civil religion is Carolyn Marvin and David Ingle, Blood Sacrifice and the Nation: Totem Rituals and the American Flag (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1998). Studies of the role of American art in the formation of American collective memory are Barry Schwartz, "The Social Context of Commemoration: A Study in Collective Memory," Social Forces 61, no. 2 (December 1982), 374-402; and Michael Kammen, Meadows of Memory: Images of Time and Tradition in American Art and Culture (Austin: University of Texas Press, 1992).