Supreme Court case is inspiration for sculpture

– Photo courtesy of Sergio De Giusti

Many Wayne State University Law School students have looked up at the bronze relief sculpture in the hallway of the classroom building and pondered its meaning, but few know that its inspiration was an important Supreme Court case from the 1960s.

Justitia et. al. was created in 1968 by Sergio De Giusti, an art student at Wayne State University at the time who won a contest to produce a work to honor retired Law School Dean Arthur Neef.

“I was interested in the Danny Escobedo case about giving testimony without a lawyer,” De Giusti said, referencing Escobedo v. Illinois, 378 U.S. 478 (1964), which held that criminal suspects have a right to counsel during police interrogations and was a precursor for the Miranda decision of 1966.

Five figures emerge from the bronze patina in the massive piece.

“The central figure is a naked justice surrounded by a sleeping judge and a jury seen in the background,” De Giusti said. At the bottom left is a man representing anyone subject to the rule of law.

“It was one of the largest reliefs cast in Detroit at that time. It was cast in sections and later welded together. I applied the patina myself. I did not make a profit, but it was very important for my beginning as an artist.”

Law School Professor Stephen Calkins recently met De Giusti at a WSU reception.

“I’ve been enchanted by this sculpture ever since I arrived at Wayne,” Calkins said. “Sometimes I look at a particular face; sometimes I take in the work as a whole; sometimes I chuckle about how this or that student group has used the work.

“Through it all, the work has endured. I was thrilled finally to meet the sculptor and learn of the sculpture’s origins.”

De Giusti has created many other works on campus, including the statue of General Anthony Wayne commissioned to mark the WSU centennial in 1968 and a triptych for the Italian Heritage Room.

A native of Maniago, Italy, he received his bachelor of fine arts in 1966 and his master of fine arts in 1968, both from WSU.

He collaborated with David Barr on Transcending, the large, arc-like stainless steel sculpture that stands in Hart Plaza, creating 29 bronze reliefs that are mounted on cut granite stones surrounding the sculpture.

Still a working artist, De Giusti has taught studio art and art history at WSU for 14 years, and has taught sculpture at the College for Creative Studies and the Birmingham-Bloomfield Art Center.

He was also a visiting artist at the University of Michigan and University of Wisconsin.