If you’ve wondered about the two bronze busts on either side of the south entrance to Central’s Center for the Reader, here is the scoop. To the left stands the bust of the Reverend John C. Learned, made in 1894. Learned (1834-1893) was a beloved and admired Unitarian minister, serving as the first pastor of the Church of the Unity (now First Unitarian Church) from 1870 until his death. He was also President of the St. Louis Public Library Board from 1887 to 1892. The artist of this bust was St. Louis sculptor Robert Porter Bringhurst (1855-1925). Bringhurst was well-known nationally, was among the founders of the St. Louis Artists Guild, operated the Ozark Pottery Company, and taught at the St. Louis School of Fine Arts. He also designed many sculptures for the Louisiana Purchase Exhibition (World’s Fair) of 1904.
On the right is a bust of Samuel Langhorne Clemens (Mark Twain), created in 1915 by Pittsburgh sculptor Frank Vittor (1888-1968). This bust has an interesting history. It was donated to the library in 1936 by the International Mark Twain Society, an organization founded by Cyril Clemens, a distant cousin of Mark Twain. Cyril had signed up every famous person that he could and listed them as friends, sponsors, or donors. Cyril claimed that funds to purchase this statue were donated by Benito Mussolini, then emerging as the dictator of fascist Italy, but also a Mark Twain fan. Cyril later dropped Mussolini’s name from the Society.