Update on the New Schoolroom Busts

Courtesy+of+Amy+Ma+%2723

Courtesy of Amy Ma ’23

Walk inside the schoolroom and you’ll find a range of dignified historic men, perched on mahogany staring back at you. From Caesar to Washington, these 17 busts stood as esteemed role-models for the white, male student demographic of Groton’s past. Yet, almost 100 years have passed since these busts were originally installed, and Groton has changed significantly. 

“Although the purpose of the schoolroom busts has always been to inspire, who is inspiring needs to change,” said Grace Mumford ‘21, an advocate for the addition of new busts. While 48% of current Groton students are people of color, the busts only depict white men. “I believe we need more diversity in thought. The people we look up to should represent us so that all feel represented and heard,” added Grace. In recent years, the overt lack of diversity within the historical figures who are supposed to serve as role models has created protest among the student body. As a result, adding new busts to Groton’s collection has become the focus of many past and present Groton students.

The collaborative project was initiated in 2018 by Layla McDermott ’18, Lucy Chatfield ’18, Josie Fulton ’18, and the Groton Feminist Club. From chapel talks to school-wide petitions, these students brought great publicity to the cause, eventually reaching the attention of the Trustees. 

“It took a lot of deliberation to decide on the final lineup. Everyone agreed that there needs to be new busts, but there was a lot of talk, discussion, and arguments about what to do with the old busts and where the new busts should be placed,” said Grace. Ultimately, the Trustees decided to abide by Mr Maqubela’s policy to “add, not delete” — to introduce a more inclusive environment while preserving the school’s tradition and historical roots. 

As a result of the efforts of Groton students and faculty, the process of increasing diversity among the schoolroom busts is well underway. After almost two years of discussion, the busts of Nelson Mandela, Mahatma Gandhi, Eleanor Roosevelt, and Rosa Parks were decided as the final lineup in Fall 2019. Each image brings new racial and gender representation to Groton’s schoolroom. In fact, the busts are being designed  by the same studio which created the original sculptures, marking continuity even within growth. Importantly, the busts will be finished with a patina, which allows the color of the sculptures to reflect the skin tone and features of the subject. 

Despite original plans to install the busts by Spring 2020, complications due to Covid-19 have delayed the process significantly. “Currently, artists at Skylight Studios are working on the busts, which are each in various stages of production,” noted Special Assistant to the Headmaster Kate Machan, who is overseeing the project. Mrs. Machan explains that creating a bust is a lengthy process. From first sculpting a clay model, to making a mold, and lastly casting the mold with plaster, it could take months to create a single final product. Unfortunately, there have been delays in manufacturing, including the temporary closure of the studio due to Covid-19 and a necessary revision in the skin color of two of the busts.

Even though complications have set back the curating process by almost a year, the project is nevertheless underway, and the school will unveil the busts in the schoolroom this spring. This project will continue even after the installation of these busts, as both Grace and Claire Holding ’21 of the Groton Feminist Club aim to introduce more historical figures to Groton’s schoolroom in the future. “Though it’s difficult to get onto the trustees’ radar in terms of issues that aren’t related to Covid-19 right now, I think students could make a lot of progress next year,” said Grace. The successful inclusion of new busts shows the potential for more diverse representation at physical spaces on campus. If no more issues arise, it will be exciting to see these new busts of bustling diversity be revealed to the community this spring.