My late father, a history professor at DePaul University, would never have spoken the first words of this article. And a few other particulars of the story are less than accurate, but I am delighted to be able to archive the piece here.
This discovery, which sparked a bit of contention, led ultimately to a happy conclusion with the Death of Cleopatra restored and displayed at the Smithsonian American Art Museum in Washington, DC. Definitely worth a visit.
By Ron Grossman, 20 June 1988
Don`t be fooled by your textbooks’ silence, Marilyn Richardson`s father used to tell her. Black folks have a history, too. We just have to go out and find it.
Last month Richardson made her dad proud. In a storeroom of the Forest Park Mall, she found a long-lost work of Edmonia Lewis, the first black American to win international renown as an artist. It was, however, a bittersweet discovery.
“The Death of Cleopatra,” a life-sized sculpture commissioned for the Centennial Exhibition of 1876 in Philadelphia, was surrounded by last year`s Christmas decorations and paint cans.
Richardson said Frank Orland, head of the local history society, who had led her to the sculpture, told her that the statue needed “renovating” so it could be put on public view. The Egyptian queen’s white marble face and arms were to be redone in flesh tones, her robe in royal purple, she said Orland told her.
Orland, who also was seeking further information on the work, had taken charge of it two years ago, the latest in a string of caretakers dating to the turn of the century, including a racetrack owner, the Navy, the post office and a Cicero firefighter. None of them, though, knew the sculpture`s full story.
Orland refused to comment on his plans or to allow a photograph of the sculpture to be taken. In a phone interview, he said only, “The Queen is not ready to receive visitors.” He added that he would tell his side of the story in a forthcoming pamphlet, “Cleopatra the Great: Statue of Forest Park.”
“I was excited and heartsick both,” said Richardson, a humanities professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. “Staring me straight in the face was an important piece of black history which had been missing for 100 years. Only it was …