E. Spencer Schubert didn't realize that an innocuous photo that he posted to his website would be news. But it was. On May 8, Schubert was hauling, in his beat-up Dodge pickup, the bronze busts that he had sculpted of former slave Dred Scott and of controversial radio host Rush Limbaugh, for upcoming inductions into the Hall of Famous Missourians at the state Capitol.
Schubert, 34, had snapped a photo of a truck hauling a fighter jet's fuselage and added a caption joking that between the busts and the jet, there was strange cargo on Missouri's highways.
"I thought I was taking what was a pretty interesting photograph, and the commentary was secondary," Schubert says. "I'm driving a couple of bronze heads to the Capitol, and this guy is driving the front of a jet."
The next day, representatives for Missouri House Speaker Steven Tilley (R-Perryville), called Schubert and asked him to remove the post. Tilley's staff complained that several reporters were demanding to know the whereabouts of Limbaugh's bronze likeness. (The bust was hidden in a basement with office furniture.)
Schubert removed the post.
"I just didn't think that people were following me on my website or that they were waiting for news. But apparently they were," Schubert says. "I think there's 160 people that like my Facebook page, and there's four people who follow my blog. You know, nobody cares usually."
The Jefferson City press corps cared. St. Louis Public Radio KWMU 90.7 and Kansas City's KCUR 89.3 posted reports that included screen grabs of Schubert's website. Tilley dodged reporters' questions, claiming that he didn't know when Limbaugh's likeness would be unveiled.
"I haven't had a chance to visit with him [Schubert], but I do know we're inducting Dred Scott," Tilley told reporters. "We don't even have a date on Rush Limbaugh yet."
Tilley had made the controversial decision to induct Limbaugh into the Hall of Famous Missourians. The speaker alone decides whom to induct, and the Speaker's Annual Golf Classic raises money to pay for the busts. Honorees, for the most part, are dead and admired by Missourians (they include Harry S. Truman, Walt Disney, Mark Twain and Lamar Hunt). In addition to Limbaugh and Scott, this year Schubert sculpted a bust of Negro Leagues legend Buck O'Neil.
Schubert, a sculptor based in Kansas City's Crossroads District, announced on his website in February that he would be sculpting a bust of Limbaugh for the Hall of Famous Missourians. Under photos of Scott and Limbaugh, Schubert wrote: "What do these two guys have in common you ask? Well, turns out they are both in the process of being sculpted by E. Spencer Schubert for the Hall of Famous Missourians at the State Capital [sic]!"
No one noticed. Then, in late February, Georgetown law student Sandra Fluke testified before a U.S. House committee in favor of insurance companies covering contraception. Limbaugh spent days verbally abusing Fluke on his radio program; he called her a "slut" and a "prostitute," and he demanded that she release sex tapes.
In the fallout of his comments about Fluke, Limbaugh's radio show lost dozens of sponsors. Limbaugh deigned to issue an on-air apology. However, Tilley was unrelenting. Defending his decision to induct Limbaugh, Tilley said: "It's not the 'Hall of Universally Loved Missourians.' "
By March, El Rushbo was in a media tailspin. Around the same time, the Leopold Gallery, in Brookside, announced that it would sell casts of the Limbaugh bust. In a press release, Schubert said he was proud to have been selected to sculpt Limbaugh.
"As a sculptor, I decided long ago that the criteria for accepting commissions would be whether or not they are artistically interesting," Schubert said in the statement. "If it were left to sculptors to choose who was honored with portraits, the entire history of portraiture would look dramatically different."