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Glenside sculptor feels the heat for bringing Clarence Darrow back to Tennessee

Zenos Frudakis' Clarence Darrow sculpture will be installed in July outside the Rhea County Courthouse, site of the 1925 Scopes "Monkey" Trial in Dayton, Tenn.

Part of Clarence Darrow's chin had peeled off and sculptor Zenos Frudakis took the oily, gray clay and worked it though his fingers.

Frudakis, 65, said his prized Italian "Giudicci" clay may be older than he is and as rare as a Stradivarius. This piece of clay, he said, may have been used on his sculptures of former Mayor Frank Rizzo or the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., and before that others may have used it on the stern Ulysses S. Grant that looks over Kelly Drive in Fairmount Park or the Lincoln Memorial in Washington.

"It's as close as I can get to reincarnation," Frudakis said in the third floor of Laran Bronze, a former ship factory-turned-bronze foundry in Chester.

Darrow, the famed civil liberties lawyer, is sitting in pieces around Frudakis, waiting to be cast in wax, then bronzed, before taking a long trip down South come July.

It's been almost 92 years since Darrow traveled from his home in Chicago to Dayton, Tenn., where he squared off against William Jennings Bryan in one of the 20th century's most famous court cases, the Scopes "Monkey' Trial, which centered on whether or not evolution could be taught in public schools.

A statue of Bryan, the three-time presidential candidate and creationist who prosecuted John Scopes for teaching evolution, was erected at the Rhea County Courthouse in 2005. Now, with funding from the individual donors, Bryan's counterpoint is returning to Dayton with the help of Frudakis, an avowed humanist himself and lifelong fan of Darrow.

"Darrow's a voice of reason," Frudakis said. "With what's going on right now in national politics, it was really important for me to get this up."

The sculpture has the approval of Rhea County officials. Locals have seen the sculpture as an inevitability and polls in the Chattanooga Times Free Press are supportive. But there have been a few vocal opponents who don't want Darrow and his beliefs reincarnated back in Dayton.

"It doesn't belong here," said June Griffin, a conservative activist well-known in Dayton. "[Darrow] was basically an atheist and in my estimation, a communist too. Tennessee is definitely a God-fearing state, based on the Bible."

Twice Frudakis has been to the courthouse for research. There he ran into a lawyer who said he didn't approve of the Darrow sculpture. That man was cordial, Frudakis said, but he's found what he's heard from Griffin and members of the Tennessee Pastors Network to be ugly.

"It's a threat to their way of life or their thinking," Frudakis said.

Edward J. Larson, author of the Pulitzer Prize-winning Summer for the Gods: The Scopes Trial and America's Continuing Debate Over Science and Religion, said it makes sense for Dayton to have a Darrow sculpture.

"There were two larger-than-life characters and since you have a Bryan, you should have a Darrow, too," Larson said. "There's always a danger that it will become subject to abuse. As long as that doesn't happen, it's sort of nice.

While in Rhea County, Frudakis dressed like Darrow, thumbing and snapping his suspenders in the courthouse the same way the American Civil Liberties Union lawyer did in 1925. Frudakis has read broadly about Darrow and the trial. His studio, a two-story carriage house in Glenside, Montgomery County, is filled with hundreds of photographs from the trial, of Darrow in various stages of his life.

Deep immersion, Frudakis said, is all he knows and he's been that way since childhood in Gary, Ind., becoming a near-expert on every subject, whether it's the Indian civil rights leader Mohandas Gandhi, aviator Amelia Earhart, or singer-songwriter Don McLean.

"Everything you learn about someone comes out through your hands," Frudakis said. "This is my meaning. We're all going to die eventually, but I want to make something. I want to bring people back to life, to create something that's going be around long after I'm gone."

Frudakis will travel to Dayton for the July 14 installation of his 7-foot tall sculpture. He jokes that he may need a bodyguard.

"It will balance the courthouse out," Frudakis said. "It's not a church. It's government property."

Two weeks earlier, on July 1, Griffin and Dale Walker of the Tennessee Pastors Network will hold a "God, Family & Country Rally" at the courthouse in Dayton.

"This would be like us coming to Pennsylvania and saying we want to put a statue of a famous Tennessee preacher in the middle of a town square there," Walker, 48, said. "The citizens need to rise up."

Walker and Griffin both pointed out that while Bryan won the famous trial, the case was eventually overturned. Time, history, and common sense all side with Darrow, Frudakis said.

"If you don't face reality," he said, "it's called insanity."