Rochester's Goethe Monument

On the green slope of a hill in Rochester's Highland Park a respectful gathering of men and women assembled on September 17th, to witness the unveiling of a bronze portrait of Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, one of the only monuments of its kind this side of the Atlantic, to commemorate the two hundredth anniversary of the poet's death. The occasion marked the culmination of a two year undertaking on the part of the committee headed by Professor Ewald P. Appelt of the University of Rochester and William Ehrich, the sculptor, who spared neither time nor effort in carrying out his commission; the aforementioned committee was composed of the German-Americans of Rochester who raised the necessary funds to defray all expenses. Professor Appelt introduced Dr. John R. Slater, Professor Emeritus of the University of Rochester, who then delivered the address of the day in his own inimitable style, a glowing tribute to the genius and heritage of a great poet by one of his ardent admirers. The portrait was gratefully accepted for the City of Rochester by Mayor Samuel Dicker, whereupon Reverend Carl Betz, an untiring worker on behalf of the project expressed the gratitude of the committee to all whose contributions in time, effort, and money had brought the undertaking to its realization.

William Ehrich, the sculptor of the monument, was born July 12th, 1897 in Königsberg, Germany, the eldest in a family of six children. Already in his childhood he displayed a leaning toward carving, and as soon as he was graduated from the school, he was apprenticed to a wood-carver, an occupation he followed for four years; at the same time he was attending art school in his home city. During the first world war he served with the Central Powers on the eastern front, eventually spending a period of two years as a prisoner of war in Russia. His dream of earlier years materialized in 1929, when he arrived in America and soon after began his career as a teacher and sculptor in the Art Institute of Buffalo. In 1937 he transferred to the Memorial Art Gallery and the University in Rochester, New York where he still pursues his art teaching.

Mr. Ehrich, if we can judge by his work in the vicinity of Rochester, is mostly interested in carving wood and stone; in fact, he has been commended for his versatility in a number of media. He emphasizes the part played by the sculptor in bringing out the organic and living qualities of his favorite materials, thus making the modeler's task more akin to that of the painter. Clay, he tells us, permits the mind of the artist to vacillate from one extreme to the another, while stone and wood belong somewhere on the opposite end of the scale of sculptural expression. Before coming to America he executed portrait heads of Kant, Herder and Copernikus as well as sharing in the embellishment of the Tannenberg Memorial. To mention one of many honors, he was given the Lillian Fairchild award at the Memorial Art Gallery in 1942, Among his best works which may be found in the museums and vicinity of Buffalo and Rochester are animal figures for the Buffalo zoo, the Merckens Fountain, the Kate Gleason Memorial, and now as a fitting climax to his previous efforts, the bronze Goethe in Rochester, New York.

The portrait in question presents to us the Goethe of mature years, when, after a life enriched with a wealth of experience as a man and an author, he had reached the height of his powers. From this height he surveys the panorama of the past, the immediacy of the present, and the hopes of the future with "the serene, silent look of eternity," as Professor Slater expressed it, like a lofty mountain gazing down on the flitting enthusiasms of man and the vicissitudes of fortune. He was, however, an organic part of the world in which he lived; in this respect he was far different from an Alexander who, at the height of his career, wept because there were no more worlds to conquer, or a Napoleon who instructed his court painter: "I want to be painted calm on a fiery steed." Goethe was a part of time and space as he knew them and at the same time beyond them; in his works which unfold the organic development of his biography, he passes from the romantic élan of his early youth to the Olympian reserve of the Golden Mean; in his own way he had reconciled the eternal paradox of the finite and infinite, the universal and particular, not by analytical probing but by living as an individual organism, growing in harmony with the larger macrocosm we call the universe.

Und es ist das ewig Eine
Das sich vielfach offenbart.

He was thereby able to enjoy to the fullest the mystery of such a compromise without making a distracted effort to embrace any one-sided interpretation of it. He realized that such treasures as beauty and happiness can neither be caught by a clutching hand nor achieved by a reform bill; such values can be realized more by living a full life on the crest of nature's ebb and flow then by stubbornly kicking against the pricks of adversity; one must accept the inevitable, appreciate its beauty and ugliness, its joy and sorrow, before one can rise above it. This is the Goethe we see on the commanding summit of a hill in Rochester's Highland Park.

Elmer G. Suhr
Associate Professor of Classics
University of Rochester

17 September, 1950