Over the years, the one thing I’ve learned is there are two places to visit in small-town America: the courthouse – if it is a county seat- and the town park. A walk through the park or a trip around the courthouse grounds often reveals a little of the town’s history.
Talleyrand Park in Bellefonte is like many small-town parks – it has a gazebo for community events, a playground for children, and countless places for visitors to sit and enjoy the outdoors. At the edge of the park, along West High Street, stands a monument celebrating the seven governors who have called Bellefonte home at some point in their lives.
Walking along Spring Creek, which passes through the park, I crossed over it on a suspension bridge that creaked and moaned with every step I took to another part of the park, known as the George Grey Barnard Sculpture Garden. The highlight of this garden is a reproduction of the bust of Abraham Lincoln, a sculpture created by the Bellefonte artist George Grey Barnard.
Barnard was born May 24, 1863 in Bellefonte, but his time living there was short. At the age of three, Joseph and Martha Barnard moved the family westward, settling in Kankakee, Illinois. From an early age, George showed great work with his hands and would eventually attend the Art Institute of Chicago before studying at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts in Paris, France. While in Paris, Barnard met and fell in love with Edna Monroe who he married in 1896. Three children were born to the Barnards – Monroe, Vivia, and Barbara.
George Grey Barnard’s notable works include Struggle of the Two Natures in Man (Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York), Maidenhood (Brookgreen Gardens, Murrell’s Inlet, South Carolina), Maiden with the Roses (Greenwood Cemetery, Muscatine, Iowa), and The Great God Pan (Columbia University, New York City).
In 1911, he finished two statues that adorn the capital building in Harrisburg. The Burden of Life: The Broken Law and Love and Labor: The Unbroken Law consist of twenty-seven larger than life figures which flank the main entrance to the state capitol building. The statues were immediately criticized upon the revelation due to the public display of nudity.
In 1917, Barnard completed Lincoln in Thought, which stands in Cincinnati with a replica in England. The English statue was supposed to be displayed in London, but due to criticism of the statue’s appearance the statue found an alternate home in Manchester. The controversy revolved around the statue having Lincoln standing with poor posture and wearing baggy clothes, rather than being the proud, upright figure like most statues of Abraham Lincoln – to make things worse, Barnard’s statue lacked Lincoln’s distinctive beard.
Barnard died on April 24, 1938 and was buried in Harrisburg Cemetery to be near his great creation of statues at the capital building. Oddly his stone is very plain and simple – only his name and dates of birth and death are on it.
Although Barnard only spent a couple of his childhood years in Bellefonte, the community has not forgotten him. In 1978, the George Grey Barnard Sculpture Garden was created. It is adorned with the bust of Lincoln cast from the 1917 mold of Statue of Abraham Lincoln. The bust was placed in 1983.
I left the garden in peace and headed out to explore the other hidden corners of the historic town that claimed George Grey Bernard as one of its native sons.