Czech sculptors throw punches in row over new Wilson statue

Photo: CTK

As Radio Prague reported earlier this year plans are well underway to restore a statue of U.S. president Woodrow Wilson in front of Prague’s main station that was torn down by the Nazis in 1941. On Monday, however, an important milestone in that project – the raising of a polystyrene model on a crane – didn’t go quite to plan, as rival sculptors ended up throwing punches.

The original three-metre bronze statue of Woodrow Wilson, who was instrumental in Czechoslovakia’s creation in 1918, showed the president standing with outstretched palms - a gesture interpreted as a protestant blessing of peace and understanding. The current project involves commissioning a team of Czech sculptors to recreate the statue as accurately as possible.

Sculptors Kryštof Hošek and Michal Blažek (right) during the punch-up, photo: CTK
Peace and understanding were in rather short supply on Monday, however, as three sculptors involved in the project became embroiled in a heated argument, one that culminated with one of the winning sculptors – Michal Blažek – punching one of the losers in the head.

The punch-up, captured by several TV crews, centred around a rather arcane quarrel over a bust of Woodrow Wilson’s head, the details of which are too complicated to go into here. However Robert Doubek, founder of the American Friends of the Czech Republic, the group spearheading and financing the project, remained philosophical after the incident:

Photo: CTK
“Of course it’s not a pleasant thing to happen, but on the other hand, when you have high emotion, it also indicates how important a project is perceived. You may know that I was in charge of building the Vietnam Memorial in Washington, and we had tremendous dissention over the design of that memorial, which has now very much been accepted by the American people. So, again, I regret there was an incident, that it would come to that, but I think it’s somewhat indicative simply of the emotions surrounding this.”

The scuffle in front of the train station overshadowed the event itself – raising a polystyrene model of the statue on a fork-lift truck, to give the sculptors and the media a rough idea of how the finished statue will look on its plinth. Daniel Špička, from the team of architects preparing the pedestal and surroundings, said it was a great honour to work on the project:

“This man, President Wilson, was really extremely important for the creation of Czechoslovakia. Now it’s nearly forgotten, but he was as important as Charles IV or someone like that. He might have been naïve – as many accuse him of, not here, but in Austria, Italy and so on – but he tried his best. But of course the muddle of Central Europe was for an American a bit too complicated.”

The sculptors are likely to continue their spat in the months to come, though, one hopes, with words rather than fists…The project itself remains on track, although the finished statue is not expected to be unveiled until 2012, when extensive remodelling of the park in front of the station is complete.