by Holly Willer
Great men and women of history have been honored with commemorative busts for thousands of years. These statues—made out of marble, bronze, terracotta, or stone—ensure their stories of heroism will be told for generations to come. The practice has become less common than the times of Plato and Beethoven, perhaps in favor of the painted portrait or photograph. Because of their relative scarcity, modern day commemorative busts have become distinctively noteworthy. In fact, the Ohio Statehouse is home to only four modern busts: Abraham Lincoln, Salmon P. Chase, George Washington Williams, and, most recently, former congressman and civil rights champion William McCulloch.
Who was this great Ohioan William Moore McCulloch was elected to the Ohio House of Representatives in 1932, serving as Minority Leader from 1936-1939 and as Speaker of the House from 1939-1944. A Republican from rural Ohio during an uncertain time in civil rights history, McCulloch took a politically risky stand for equal rights, working closely with the NAACP and supporting sit-ins at local diners. His efforts were vital in ending segregation in conservative Piqua. After serving in the United States Army during the Second World War, McCulloch went on to serve in the U.S. House of Representatives for 25 years. It was on this national stage that his fight for civil rights was fully realized when he became an integral architect of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. President John F. Kennedy stated that “without him, [the passage of the Civil Rights Bill of 1964] can’t be done.”
His story is often left untold in the history of the Civil Rights Movement, but Ohio Arts Council board member James Dicke II made it his mission to ensure McCulloch was not forgotten. Dicke, CEO of Crown Equipment, was a member of McCulloch’s congressional staff from 1966-1967. He witnessed first hand the congressman’s monumental work and has been instrumental in sharing McCulloch’s story. “It was an honor to work for him,” said Dicke. “He was a modest man in most of his life. People who are modest can get a lot accomplished, and he was no exception.”
An artist himself, James Dicke II served on the Smithsonian National Board and as chairman of commissioners of the Smithsonian American Art Museum. He is also an avid supporter of the arts and the recipient of the 2007 Governor’s Awards for the Arts in Ohio in the Arts Patron category. With access to nationally recognized artists, Dicke knew exactly who to commission to create the bust. He didn’t have to look any further than his childhood home in rural Auglaize County, the same county McCulloch represented for decades, and the home of nationally recognized artist Jack Earl.
Through his ceramic sculptures, Jack Earl evokes the spirit of rural Ohio that McCulloch worked tirelessly to advance. Known as one of America’s premiere ceramic artists, Earl has been creating rural Ohio-inspired pieces since graduating with a master’s degree from Ohio State University in 1964. His work has been displayed in museums from the Kohler Arts Center to the Smithsonian American Art Museum. He is a 2000 Ohio Arts Council Individual Artist Fellowship recipient, as well as the 2013 Governor’s Award for the Arts in Ohio winner in the Individual Artist category. “I chose Earl [to create the bust] in part because I thought he was a logical choice. He is a revered Ohio artist,” Dicke said. “Additionally, he is not an artist normally represented in the Statehouse, as his background is in ceramics.”
The bust was unveiled during a special ceremony at the Ohio Statehouse on December 17, 2014. It will be on display outside the House chambers that William McCulloch had spent so many years presiding over. “He represented the best of the people of Ohio,” said House Speaker William Batchelder, who was pivotal in ensuring the bust would be placed outside the chambers. State Representative Richard Adams remarked, “This will have an influence on the legislators and an influence on the students who come to this place and pause here to be reminded how important it is to do something because it is the right thing to do.”
“Common people are smart people,” Jack Earl once said. This bust of a common man from Piqua, Ohio, who paved the way for civil rights in our nation connects us with a pivotal period in our nation’s history and reminds us, in the words of Plato, “Good actions give strength to ourselves and inspire good actions in others.”
View Jack Earl’s rendition of William McCulloch outside the House chamber in the Ohio Statehouse.