Local artist planning Truman statue for Square

By Mike Genet mike.genet@examiner.net
The Examiner

Byron Constance, the longtime Independence attorney and developer who took up artistry later in life as a hobby, says he’d long been interested in sculpting a unique Harry Truman statue. 

The Independence Square Association had long hoped to depict Truman’s life with works of art around the Square. 

Byron Constance describes his statue depicting Harry Truman in his World War I uniform. The statue is to be cast in bronze and placed on the Independence Square later this year.

The two paths connected this year, and by the end of the year a second Truman statue should be in place on the Square. 

Constance, 94, is putting the finishing touches on his clay statue depicting Truman from World War I, in which the future 33rd president served as an artillery captain. He’ll then ship it to a foundry in Colorado, to be cast in bronze, and ideally the statue will be in place this fall on the northeast corner of Liberty Street and Maple Avenue.  

“I’d seen pictures of Truman in his World War I uniform; it’s such an impressive photograph,” said Constance, who two years ago unveiled a pioneer man statue that sits on the corner of Pleasant Street and Lexington Avenue outside his law office, as well as a bust of Andrew Drumm at the namesake’s Center for Children. “I don’t think anybody else has done a sculpture of him in that pose; at least the people I’ve talked to they haven’t seen that. It’s a rather dramatic pose.” 

“That picture kind of captured my imagination.” 

A statue of walking Truman is east of the historic courthouse on the Square, and just about any other Truman statue, including the one commissioned for the U.S. Capitol, depicts him from his Senate or presidential days. Jeff Rogers, president of the Square Association, said he wants to create a connection with Truman’s entire lifespan in the community. 

“It could help people make connections and tell a larger story of that man from Independence,” Rogers said. “Very few presidents, especially in modern history, return to the city that they left.” 

“Those of us who grew up in his hometown, we all know the story, but those who visit might not get the full flavor. We’ll probably be putting a plaque next to it that tells about his time in the Army and directly after Army.” 

In time, Rogers said, the Square Association hopes to also commission statues of other aspects of Truman’s life – perhaps a young teenager working his first job at Clinton’s Soda Fountain, and one with his wife Bess and daughter Margaret. Learning that Constance wanted to do a World War I Truman statue, he said, “the stars aligned there.” 

This statue will be in the corner of the parking lot next to the theater. Rogers said they’ll move iron fencing to accommodate it, and no sidewalk will be taken out. The exact direction it will face is to be determined, he said, but right across Liberty Street, in what is now Edison Event Space, is the spot where Truman and a partner ran a short-term savings-and-;oan business in between the times in which he served as a county judge. 

Constance said the people at the National World War I Museum in Kansas City proved to be of great help, providing photographs and uniform examples. Constance also visited the museum to get an up-close look at uniform details such as bootlaces and buttons. 

First, he did a maquette, a scale-model figure about a foot tall. He sent that to a sculpture center in Colorado to have a life-size foam figure made. Constance then applied a clay layer on the foam figure, which is detailed. He added actual belts, as well.  

“I’ve just about finished all the clay work, and I’m trying to send it off to the foundry next week,” he said. “I don’t work on it eight hours a day, but I do work a few hours day. I started work on it about three months ago.” 

Rogers said the Square Association is paying for the foundry casting and setting – about $25,000 – as Constance did not want to charge an artist’s fee. 

“It’s remarkable how quick Byron is; he’s very good at his craft,” Rogers said. “It’s pretty special that we’re able to have somebody from Independence who’s the artist.”