George Barnard

Apr 5, 2021

This is Roald Tweet on Rock Island.

Muscatine, Iowa, a few miles down the Mississippi from here, must have made an impact on George Grey Barnard. Barnard lived there briefly as a teenager from 1877 to 1885 before going on to become an internationally acclaimed sculptor. Late in life, with his work in many museums, Barnard claimed that his inspiration came from Muscatine.

Muscatine, of course, was proud to accept the responsibility, for George Grey Barnard was not your stereotypical, loose-living artist. Listen to this story.

Barnard was in Paris on Armistice Night, 1918. Amid the celebration, a vision came to him to build a monument to peace. It would be called "The Rainbow Arch," a hundred feet high and sixty wide—the largest of its kind in the world.

He returned to the United States, outgrew his studio and moved into a car barn, working as he had money for supplies and models. Years passed. Bit by bit he sold off his art collection to keep going. His helpers grew old. Models who had been young girls when he first hired them grew into women and then into matrons.

He was seventy-three, with a failing heart. Doctors told him to stop, but he had to finish. His fifty-nine-foot plaster models needed to be sculpted in stone.

Then one day he arrived at his studio to find policeman there. Vandals had smashed his figures with sledgehammers and thrown tar on the white marble.

"What do you want to do about it," a policeman asked. "I want to begin again," said George Grey Barnard. And he did, growing more and more feeble. Before he died on April 25th, 1938, his magnificent Rainbow Arch was finished.

This story tells me that whatever other inspiration the young teenage artist may have gotten from Muscatine, he did learn Rule Number Two from the list of morals we Rock Islanders teach our kids. In some families it's Rule Number Three, but it's all the same: If you're going to start something, finish it!

Rock Island Lines with Roald Tweet is underwritten by Augustana College, Rock Island, Illinois.