For anyone who’s had the chance to make their way to the Bottom County and familiarize themselves with St. Mary’s College, it’s obvious that Maryland’s honors school is a quintessential institution of the Old Line State. Standing as a monument to the location and ideals of Maryland’s founding, it is as much a reflection of our state’s historical and cultural heritage as Blue Crab and Black Eyed Susan. Its location on the scenic St. Mary’s River makes the college an equal part of the sprawling Chesapeake estuary system as Baltimore Harbor or the Bay Bridge. And, of course, the school’s steadfast dedication to putting the Naval Academy sailing team in its place marks St. Mary’s as the state’s premier maritime organization in a state that has more shoreline than the entire eastern seaboard combined. In short, the monument school is Maryland.
This being the case, it is little surprise that Maryland’s most reflective educational institution and its surrounding community has a close connection Maryland’s most successful sculptor, Hans Schuler. As a sculptor, Schuler rose to prominence in the early 20th century, creating various public and private sculptures that distinguished him as a prolific talent on the American Art scene. While born in Germany in 1874, Schuler and his family moved to Maryland in the early 1880’s, settling in Baltimore where Schuler spent the majority of his career, graduating from the Maryland Institute College of Art and serving as the institute’s president in his later years.
The sculptor’s first relationship with the St. Mary’s community came with a revival of interest in the story of St. Mary’s City and Maryland history in the early 20th century. With the state’s tercentenary approaching in 1934, various cultural heritage organizations began to commission works that commemorated the history of Maryland and raised community awareness of the state’s past. In St. Mary’s City, this manifested itself in a monument raised by the local chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution who hired Schuler to carve a plaque that marked the location of Maryland’s original state house of 1676. The plaque was unveiled in 1926 and must have made quite the impression on the surrounding community for when the tercentenary arrived in 1934, Schuler was commissioned to create a multitude of works commemorating Maryland’s founding.
Among these included the well-known tercentennial medallion, a large bust of Leonard Calvert, a commemorative half dollar coin issued by the United States Mint, and even the gate posts to mark the entrance to Trinity Church. These items served to give a face to the state’s efforts to commemorate its history as well as the St. Mary’s community. Many of these items can still be found within the St. Mary’s community today, with Calvert’s likeness sitting in the visitor’s center to Historic St. Mary’s City while Schuler’s craftsmanship commemorating the founding of Trinity Church can still be seen on the gate posts today.
The most enduring of these commemorative efforts was a large statue that would memorialize the practice of religious tolerance by the original colonists of Maryland. The statue, known today as the “freedom of conscience statue,” was a gift from the original counties of Maryland and intended to serve as a marker for the entrance to the colonial settlement of St. Mary’s City. While not erected until a year after the tercentennial celebrations, Schuler’s statue became a notable landmark woven into the landscape of St. Mary’s, eventually serving as one of the college’s “seven wonders” in addition to a marker for Maryland’s preservation of “libertie of conscience.”
While it would be enough for the Schuler family to have adorned our campus landscape with one of its most notable monuments, St. Mary’s connection with Baltimore’s sculpting family did not end following the tercentennial celebration. Following Renwick Jackson’s assumption of the college presidency in 1968, St. Mary’s began its evolution into a full four-year, accredited collegiate institution. In accordance with the ceremonial culture of other academic institutions, Jackson commissioned the creation of a college medallion. The college turned to none other than the Schuler family for the task, with Hans Carl Schuler, the son of Han Schuler Sr., taking on the project. The medallion was struck in 1970 and features the sailing vessels the Ark and the Dove of St. Mary’s founding fame. Later on, Schuler’s design became the basis for the school’s official seal, appearing on the school diplomas and official documentation. As a result, the Schuler family contributed a great deal to shaping not only the landscape of St. Mary’s, but its identity as well.
The Schuler family’s work has become an intricate part of the St. Mary’s identity over the years, commemorating both its location and the school itself. It’s easy to see how these two Maryland institutions came to be closely linked; both have gone to great lengths to preserve the history of the state; one with hammer and chisel, the other with the classroom. And that, of course, makes them quintessential reflections of the Old Line State.