A new greeting for Truman Library visitors

By Mike Genet mike.genet@examiner.net

Whenever the National Archives and Records Administration gives the OK and visitors are permitted inside the newly renovated Truman Presidential Library & Museum, they will be greeted by a new statue of Harry Truman.

The bronze statue, which depicts a walking Truman smiling and doffing his hat in greeting, will be part of the landscaping in front of the new main entrance on the building’s east side. It’s a gift commissioned and donated by New York businessman Don Wertman. He commissioned Pennsylvania artist Dexter Benedict, who created the bronze bust of former Attorney General and Supreme Court Justice Robert Jackson that Wertman donated to the library five years ago.

A statue of President Truman waving his hat in greeting stands outside the new entrance of the Truman Library.

“We were thrilled, of course,” Library Director Kurt Graham said, recalling Wertman’s offer. “It was really a very generous thing.”

“It was a real gift, one that we didn’t expect, and it’s going to make the edges of the museum really shine, and make it a completely different experience for visitors coming in.”

Library officials hope to formally unveil the new statue in late October, about the time renovated museum exhibits will be complete. They’ve long hoped to reopen the museum at that point, but that ultimately will be decided by federal archives officials, depending in large part on the coronavirus.

The statue of standing Truman, which used to overlook the courtyard from the inside, near the end of visitors’ tour, will be in the lobby just inside the new main entrance as originally planned.

Clay Bauske, the library’s curator, said Wertman came up with the idea after he and Benedict were in Independence to unveil the Robert Jackson bust and learned of the renovation plans that had started. 

Truman appointed Jackson, who had joined the Supreme Court in 1941, to be the chief prosecutor for the Nuremberg war crime trials after World War II. 

“When we took the portrait bust to the Truman Library, we got to know those people, and Kurt Graham was just new there,” Wertman said in a social media video with Benedict posted in August. “We had a wonderful time visiting, and they were so appreciative.”

“After we’d been to the Truman Library and started to hear about their plans, I got to thinking, ‘Wouldn’t it be grand to have a heroic-sized statue of President Truman on the grounds.”

In the video, Benedict said he imagined a thoughtful Truman pose, but library officials imagined more of a welcoming appearance. 

Bauske said a committee of library employees would meet to discuss the updates, and they could easily trade digital images and renderings with Benedict. Since the artist worked with a clay model, he could easily make adjustments.

“We dug into our archives and pulled out a whole bunch of pictures,” Bauske said. 

A couple difficult points they worked around: Truman’s eyeglasses, faithfully depicting Truman’s smile and how to show the hat. 

“Sculptors have always had a difficult time doing glasses, but Dexter had some good ideas,” Bauske said. “Another thing is his hat. Since it’s outside, we figured it would be a good idea to put his hand around the bowl of the hat, to give it more attachment points.”

Wertman said many pictures of Truman doffing his hat show the inside facing out, and they agreed that wouldn’t be ideal.

“The pose is just so quintessential Truman, because he loved to greet people,” he said in the video. “His walks around Washington, D.C. and around Independence are legendary, and he wore a hat almost all the time when he was outdoors.”

The statue was delivered in late August, cemented in place last week and is covered right now, Bauske said. Landscaping, something that had been planned before the statue idea was conceived and commissioned, will be added around it.

“We were already going to be doing the landscaping (outside the main entrance),” he said. “That location had been picked for the statue, we just positioned which way it would be facing.”