Update, March 7: Sculptor E. Spencer Schubert responds, below.
Rush Limbaugh has never thought highly of artists (though his words for them haven’t been as harsh as what he had to say about Georgetown student Sandra Fluke).
Nevertheless, an artist is crafting a bust in the image of the conservative radio host for the Missouri Capitol’s “Hall of Famous Missourians,” and many people who have been following Limbaugh’s most recent scandal — his public apology after calling Fluke a “slut” for her testimony on birth control — aren’t too happy about it.
Limbaugh, who grew up in Cape Girardeau, Mo., was selected to be honored with a sculpture among other famed residents of the state, including President Harry Truman; authors Mark Twain and Laura Ingalls Wilder, and Dred Scott, a slave who sued for his freedom in 1857. The statue will be paid for by private funds raised by the Missouri House speaker, Steven Tilley. According to St. Louis Today, the sculptures cost $10,000 each, and the funds are raised through the speaker’s annual golf tournament.
Schubert has dipped his toe into controversial political work before. One 2008 piece called “Paintball Polling” involved shooting campaign images of the previous election’s candidates in the face and chest with a paintball gun — a bipartisan treatment he applied to both McCain-Palin and Obama-Biden images. Other than a sculpture of Theodore Roosevelt, the rest of Schubert’s work tends to stay away from politics. On his Web site, he features a series of fleshy full-body nudes, and busts of anynomous, perhaps imagined people. He has created a previous sculpture for the Hall of Famous Missourians, of Negro League baseball player Buck O’Neil.
Missouri Democrats have pledged to stop the sculpture, but since it is being commissioned from private funds, it’s unclear what they’ll be able to do about it. Tilley maintained that Limbaugh belonged in the hall, in comments to media on Monday: “It’s not the Hall of Universally Loved Missourians,” Tilley said. “It’s the Hall of Famous Missourians.”
For what it’s worth, Limbaugh might enjoy having a sculpture in his image, but he doesn’t support an artist’s right to make a living off of it. In a transcript of his show on March 12, 2010, he mocked the idea that artists should be able to make art full time without losing their health care coverage.
Democrats “are fighting for you not to have a job and still have health care so you can pursue your entrepreneurial risk of writing, painting, taking pictures.” Limbaugh said. “It’s just such a pain in the rear end to have to have a job.”
Art is a job for many people — among them Schubert, who issued a statement about his motivation for accepting the commission:
“I was honored when Speaker Tilley selected me to sculpt Buck O’Neil, a shining example of humanity. I was honored when he commissioned me to sculpt Dred Scott, an icon in civil rights history. And I was honored when Tilley commissioned me for yet another sculpture in the Hall of Famous Missourians; this time, Rush Limbaugh, an entertainer who says provocative things.
As a sculptor I decided long ago that the criteria for accepting commissions would be whether or not they are artistically interesting. I knew this would be an interesting project due to the fact that there are strong opinions on either side about Rush.Those strong feelings challenge me to create a portrait that each viewer sees the way that they want to see it. Again, I am a sculptor, sculpting is what I do. If it were left to sculptors to choose who was honored with portraits, the entire history of portraiture would look dramatically different.”