Archive for Thursday, January 18, 2001

Historical figureheads

Presidential busts to undergo restoration

January 18, 2001

After four decade careers in the art world, George Washington and Abe Lincoln will return to government.

At least, that is the plan of Darrel Zimmerman for the life-size busts of America's two greatest presidents.

The busts were donated to the school by the DeSoto Rural High School Class of 1925. For 40 years, they graced the school's auditorium.

DeSoto High art teacher Tim Mispagel and Darrel Zimmerman strike
their best Mt. Rushmore poses between the well-travelled busts of
George Washington and Abraham Lincoln. Zimmerman hopes to return
the busts to their original home.

DeSoto High art teacher Tim Mispagel and Darrel Zimmerman strike their best Mt. Rushmore poses between the well-travelled busts of George Washington and Abraham Lincoln. Zimmerman hopes to return the busts to their original home.

"Sometime in the early 1940s, I attended an event in the auditorium," Zimmerman said. "They (the busts) made the biggest impression on me of anything I saw that day."

The busts continued to greet students entering the auditorium after the building became the junior high. But after offering a silent civics lesson to two generations of DeSoto students, the busts were taken from general view when the auditorium was subdivided to meet space needs in the 1960s.

The plaster of Paris busts still had something to offer students. Another two generations of students have used them as models for art classes

"George and Abe somehow found their way to the art room," Zimmerman said. "They were moved to Lexington Trails when the middle school took over that building."

That was nearly the busts last home. In a wave of cleaning that preceded the high school's move to its new building two years ago, the busts were temporarily thrown away. They were saved when former teacher Doug Catloth rescued them from a dumpster.

During a recent visit with high school teacher Karen Wall, Zimmerman asked about the busts. His interest in the statues was rekindled by the current renovations of the old high school, which will soon serve as the new DeSoto City Hall.

"They are remodeling the old junior high library into the new city council chamber and courtroom," he said. "Basically, that is the top part of the old auditorium before it was divided into different floors

"I thought, 'what a neat thing it would be to bring Abe and George back home.'"

Zimmerman's search led him to DeSoto High art teacher Tim Mispagel, who informed him that the two busts were still in the school's art studio. With that knowledge, Zimmerman asked the school board for written custody of the busts for the next year.

During that time, Zimmerman said, he will have the busts restored to their former glory. While intact, they do have numerous chips, including a large chunk out of the pedestal of the Washington bust.

In addition to those repairs, the busts will be repainted to the bronze-like patina they had when they first greeted students to the auditorium 76 years ago, Zimmerman said.

As the repairs are made, Zimmerman wants to learn more about the busts. It is a research project with which Zimmerman expects little help from the 1925 DeSoto High graduates, he said. The only person among the list of 19 graduates he immediately recognized, Homer Hughes, died several years ago, he said.

However, the Lincoln bust give Zimmerman a place to start his research. It bears a stamp stating the bust was copyrighted by the Boston Sculpture Company of Melisa, Mass., in 1909.

When they voted to turn the busts over to Zimmerman for restoration, the school board indicated its willingness to place them in City Hall. City Councilman Duke Neeland said he would welcome the busts' return.

"I think that's a good idea," he said. "Those two fellows were down there for a long time."

Meanwhile, Zimmerman said he would raise money to restore the busts and for future display brackets within City Hall. He also wants to add a reminder of the two presidential greats' future watchdog role in City Hall.

"I envision some note that asks council members to consider what George and Abe would have done before they make important votes," he said.

Commenting has been disabled for this item.