Sculpture an appropriate way to honor talented native son

An important addition to The Terre Haute Cultural Trail will be unveiled today near the north doors of the Vigo County Public Library.

The new sculpture honors one of the community's native sons — Theodore Dreiser — and puts a permanent positive spotlight on a man who had a tenuous relationship with his community while he was alive. Dreiser was an author (and before that a newspaperman) in the early 20th century who earned critical acclaim with his often-controversial novels.

As is frequently the case, history has softened the view of Dreiser's work as too edgy. In fact, it's quite tame by today's standards. But during his time, the topics and stories Dreiser told were shocking and scandalous.

Terre Haute did not roundly embrace Dreiser for his work or talent as a writer, nor his leftist politics years later. In turn, Dreiser did not express kind thoughts or words for his hometown.

Let's hope the Wabash Valley Art Spaces' decision to feature and honor Dreiser with its third public sculpture will help reconcile the community with Dreiser and the past.

Art Spaces will dedicate the sculpture, to be known as "Dreiser — Shadows of Meaning," with a public ceremony at 11:30 a.m. The sculpture, which depicts phrases from the author's writings on a typewritten page, will join the public sculptures commemorating poet Max Ehrmann and Dreiser's brother, songwriter Paul Dresser, on the Cultural Trail.

In his column on the cover of Sunday's Perspectives section, the Tribune-Star's Mark Bennett explained the tense relationship Dreiser had with Terre Haute but mused that today the spat would be "inconsequential."

"Dreiser paved a course for truthful writing, a virtue of democracy," Bennett wrote. "Authors following Dreiser praise his courage."

Bennett quoted Mary Kramer, Art Spaces executive director, as saying Dreiser's strained relationship with Terre Haute needs to be understood in its historical context.

"We have to remember, people were jailed for writing those things sometimes, for saying what they thought," Kramer told Bennett. "I think we should be proud of what he did."

Kramer is right. Terre Haute should be proud of what Dreiser did and the significant contribution he made as a novelist in the early 20th century.

Terre Haute should also be proud of what Wabash Valley Art Spaces is doing to memorialize Dreiser's place in this community, and the world of American literature.

Published editorials are the collective opinion of the Tribune-Star's Editorial Board and are independent of the newspaper's news gathering and coverage.

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