Photo by Todd Fallert
A work crew removes the "Where the Rivers Meet" statue from in front of Fusz residence hall.
A controversial statue portraying a prominent Jesuit missionary ministering to two American Indians found a new home on Saint Louis University’s campus Wednesday.
Called “Where the Rivers Meet,” the statue stood in front of Fusz Hall since the 1950s, when the Jesuit province owned the building, until its removal Wednesday.
Here’s how University News, SLU’s student newspaper, describes the polarizing statue: “Tall and stern, a weathered image of Fr. Pierre DeSmet, S.J., towers over those of two Native Americans. The priest holds up a crucifix, while the other men, whose plumed headwear makes clear their ethnicity, kneel in awe.”
Clayton Berry, SLU’s assistant vice president for communications, tells SLM that the statue was moved to the university’s art museum after staff voiced concerns.
“In more recent years, there have been some faculty and staff who have raised questions about whether the sculpture is culturally sensitive,” Berry says. “Hearing that feedback, the decision was made to place the piece within the historical context of a collection that’s on permanent display in our SLU Museum of Art.”
University staff weren’t alone in finding the statue of two Indian men submitting to a white man troubling. Two years before its removal, the student newspaper called it "the most controversial and misunderstood of all the artwork on the Saint Louis University campus." During Occupy SLU, the six-day student protest against racial inequality sparked by the Ferguson protests, Twitter user @EmmaculateJones shared photos of the statue, calling it a visual representation of “white supremacy on SLU campus.”
The Occupy SLU protests ended when university leadership and protesters signed the Clock Tower Accords, a 13-point agreement to provide more resources for African-American students and for the African-American Studies program.
One of the agreements negotiated in the Clock Tower Accords included commissioning two renowned African-American artists to design a sculpture inspired by the live-in protest to be installed in the fall. The planned artwork has already raised concerns from people who fear its message will be anti-police.
"Contrary to some reports, it was never our intention to—nor will we—commission artwork that would be anti-police or would honor the Ferguson protesters," SLU president Fred Pestello said in a statement.
“Where the Rivers Meet,” named for the confluence of the Missouri and Mississippi rivers, will now reside in the museum’s “Collection of the Western Jesuit Missions,” alongside other art and artifacts portraying Jesuit missions in the 1800s. De Smet was a venerated Jesuit missionary known for negotiating a peace treaty with Chief Sitting Bull and the Sioux tribe. He died in St. Louis in 1873.