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Born and trained in the Midwest, Charles Adrian Pillars (1870–1937) was an accomplished and highly successful sculptor who settled in northeast Florida in 1894. Pillars was a student of the Beaux Arts tradition of dramatic, romantic, classically-inspired, and often allegorical sculpture that dominated much civic art in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. He studied under renowned Chicago sculptor Lorado Taft, creator of the monumental Columbus Fountain at Washington’s Union Station and a number of famous works in Chicago and elsewhere. In his Spiritualized Life composition Pillars made powerful use of the Beaux Arts style to tell a moving story of the true spirit of those who served in WWI. He wrote that he “desired this memorial to present the idea of life, its struggle and its victory.”
While striving to make a composition visualizing this, I found a poem by Alan Seeger, a soldier- victim of the war. At once I saw the typical spirit of the boys who went overseas – saw with their eyes a world in the insane grip of greed and ambition, caught in the ceaseless swirl of selfishness, hate and covetousness, ever struggling against submergence. I saw these boys giving up their homes, sweethearts, wives and mothers to go overseas and through the supreme sacrifice make secure the happiness and safety of their loved ones. With this vivid picture in mind, I constructed a sphere to represent the world, engirdled with masses of swirling water typifying the chaotic earth forces. In this surging mass of waters, I shaped human figures, all striving to rise above this flood, struggling for mere existence. Last, surmounting these swirling waters, with their human freight, I placed the winged figure of Youth, representative of spiritual life, the spirit of these boys which was the spirit of victory. Immortality attained not through death, but deeds; not a victory of brute force, but of spirit. This figure of Youth Sacrificed wears his crown of laurels won. He holds aloft an olive branch, the emblem of peace.
While Spiritualized Life is probably C.A. Pillars’ best-known surviving work, he went on to complete a number of commissions before his death, including a bronze figure of William Boyd Barnett, founder of Barnett Bank, completed for the bank’s 50th anniversary in 1931; coincidentally, the Barnett family sponsored the restoration of Memorial Park’s twin entry gates on Riverside Avenue in 1994, in memory of William Boyd Barnett’s great-grandson William Randle Barnett.