The Changing Landscape of Public Memory | Works on Paper

By Howard Skrill

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We are in the midst of a moment of epochal transformation that started before Charlottesville with the demand that the landscape of American memory, as embodied in figurative public monuments, be reassessed. This has resulted in the alteration of these monuments through additions and removals aiming to correct historical erasures that have resulted in systematic biases extending into the present.

"Sheridan Equiestrian Splashed Red, DC" by Howard SkrillMy latest works on paper, made in my studio, are from what I call the Anna Pierrepont Series. They are perhaps an inevitable progression from the practice I launched in 2013, when I would carry around a folding chair and whatever materials I could fit in my paint-smeared backpack to make plein air drawings of statuary near my home in Brooklyn. I did not start this series with any specific intent; I was simply inspired by my intense love of the challenge of representation. The statues were selected in the time-honored academic tradition of drawing statuary, due to their static nature. (Ironically, given my project, Anna Pierrepont, a descendant of John Jay, the first chief justice of the U.S., does not have a statue dedicated in her name. She lies in a grand sarcophagus on a forlorn hill in Brooklyn’s Green-Wood Cemetery. I don’t know much about her life, but I find her crypt, enclosed in gothic filigree of an august red sandstone, and surrounded by familial minions scattered below her, a fitting moniker for this series of works).

"Lee, Richmond (tear it down)" by Howard SkrillIt wasn’t long before I, along with the rest of the world, began to see statuary in a different way—public monuments, in particular. Such monuments are often installed in central places, functioning to communicate a memory that is sanctioned by those controlling memory space. Most monuments are pastiches of selective memory blended with outright fictions that appear increasingly absurd as time passes. Brought into being in stone and metal, they often endure way past their expiration dates. Increasingly, people are connecting these relics to the persistence of inequities enduring into the present, and they are turning against them with astonishing intensity. 

The monuments I’ve recorded in the images in the gallery below were raised to celebrate the assignment of others to ghostlike invisibility, their pristine surfaces reflecting continued success in these efforts over epochs. These surfaces have been transformed in recent years by hammers, chisels, markers, spray paint, and plastic wrap, and entire monuments have been brought down by lassos and cranes. The monuments are now in the possession of those who were rendered invisible by them. The resulting images, as captured in photographs and on video and in art, are astonishing tableaux vivant.


ARTerrain Gallery by Howard Skrill
The Changing Landscape of Public Memory | Works on Paper

Images in this gallery may not be copied or otherwise used without express written consent of the artist. Click image to view in larger size.

About the Artist

Howard Skill in a museumHoward Skrill is the creator of the Anna Pierrepont Series, which explores the fate of public monuments in plein air drawings and in studio works on paper. Images from this series have been published in numerous journals and magazines around the country. Howard is a long time resident of Brooklyn, New York, where he lives with his wife.

Learn more about Howard Skrill at

All images courtesy Howard Skrill. is the world’s first online journal of place, publishing a rich mix of literature, art, commentary, and design since 1998.