Lady Justice: Public Art in Gainesville and Alachua County

In November 2018, the Alachua County Commission selected Lady Justice as the artwork that best reflected the mission of the Public Defender’s Office.

The artist, James Gabbert, was commissioned to create and install his work. Mr. Gabbert met with lawyers from the Public Defender’s Office to get a better understanding of the mission of the office, their vision for the artwork, and to ensure that their passion and purpose was accurately reflected in the sculpture. Many of their ideas and suggestions are featured in the piece.

The completed bronze sculpture incorporates a great deal of symbolism, which Mr. Gabbert explained at the June 19 unveiling of Lady Justice. The concept of a woman holding the scales of justice can be traced back to ancient Egypt, and a blindfolded Lady Justice carrying a sword was introduced in the 15th Century Italian Renaissance to represent “blind justice” and “swift justice”. However, Mr. Gabbert wished to reinterpret this iconic symbol of justice in a more contemporary way. Instead of simply holding the scales, our Lady Justice IS the scale – holding a dish in each hand. The artist decided to do away with the traditional blindfold after his conversation with the public defenders, who need to see their clients as individuals in order to best represent them. In the classic form, Lady Justice is usually depicted brandishing a sword – an element added by kings and tyrants for intimidation purposes. Mr. Gabbert chose instead to depict a heavily distressed but sheathed sword.

Close up of shethed sword with a visible inscription reading For The Defense

The battlescarred figure with a sword at the ready symbolizes the public defenders who battle for justice and are always ready to fight for their clients. The lawyers chose the perfect phrase to describe the sword’s purpose – “For the Defense” appears on the cross guard of the sword as their battle cry. Prominently displayed on the pedestal base is the powerful Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. quote selected by the public defenders: “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere”. Even the sculpture’s size, position, and location are filled with meaning. Lady Justice is seated cross-legged, indicating that she is prepared to listen and have a conversation. Her eyes are at the eye level of the average American adult to facilitate eye contact and indicate a willingness to understand and connect. Finally, the sculpture offers a silent invitation to people who approach her from the street with her head turned slightly to the right to look in their direction.

The sculpture was created using the ancient “lost wax” casting technique – but with a few updates to the technique that utilized cutting-edge technology and modern materials. This exacting multi-step casting process required a team of talented craftsmen to assist in bringing the artist’s vision to life. This beautiful sculpture of Lady Justice is now on permanent public display outside the Public Defender’s Office located at 151 SW 2nd Ave, Gainesville, FL 32601. Please stop by and pay her a visit.

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