Detroit Mercy Law Receives Art Donation in Honor of Alumnus

April 07, 2021

Carlos Lopez 
Circa 1930s 
Gift of family of John James Beach (LLB 49) 


This dramatic relief sculpture depicts a courtroom in the heat of a criminal trial.  Lawyers at the bottom left argue to the jury at lower right, a man in the middle is sworn in to testify while gripped by a police officer, and the presiding judge at the top is flanked by men raising their voices and fists.   


In this sculpture Lopez challenges us to question what Justice is.  Are the two men trying to influence the judge?  Why does a police officer have his hands on a witness?  The jury of twelve appears more diverse than one might expect in the 1930s—one appears to be a woman, another elderly, others Black—is that a hopeful sign of what Justice could look like?  One of the lawyers appears to be pleading and the other filled with rage.  Does this display Justice or the lack of Justice? 


Carlos Lopez was a prominent Michigan artist and art teacher known primarily for his oil paintings and watercolors.  He was born in Cuba in 1908 and moved to the US in 1919.  He studied art at the Detroit Art Academy and the Art Institute of Chicago, was director of the Detroit Art Academy and later a professor of art at University of Michigan.  Mr. Lopez received numerous awards including the Haan Prize (1936), the Scarab Club Golden Medal (1938), and the Kahn Award (1940).  His drawing Hoisting Anti-Aircraft Gun 1942), is owned by the Smithsonian Institution, while other works are in the collections of the Whitney Museum of Art, the Henry Ford Museum, and the Detroit Institute of Arts.  Mr. Lopez is also known for his murals, two of which are in US Post offices in Southeast Michigan, one in Birmingham (The Pioneer Society’s Picnic) and the other in Plymouth (Plymouth Trail). Mr. Lopez died at the age of 44 in Ann Arbor, Michigan. 


The law school received this sculpture in 2021 from Tom Beach on behalf of his familyTheir father, John James Beach (LLB ’49), an attorney at Conklin, Benham, McLeod, Ducey, and Ottaway, received the sculpture as payment for legal work from one of the firm’s clients Checker Cab in in the late 1960s-early 1970s. It had been disassembled and stored in a Checker garage with cab exhaust damaging the piece for years.  Mr. Beach’s children recall cleaning every inch of the piece with old toothbrushes and mild soap.  Thereafter, the wood was treated for protection. On the back of one of the boards was a tag from the Detroit Institute of Arts that identified the piece as Justice? by F. Carlos Lopez.  The wood sculpture hung prominently in Mr. Beach’s home for many years, and then moved to Tom Beach’s home.  Tom Beach and his family proudly made this donation of Justice? to the law school. 


The School of Law learned more about Mr. Lopez from an article by George Vargas, former professor at University of Michigan and Texas A&M University, entitled Carlos Lopez:  A Forgotten Michigan Painter, Occasional Paper No. 56, February 1999 published by the MSU Julian Samora Research Institute.  Professor Vargas graciously introduced us to Mr. Lopez’s son, Jon.  As soon as Jon saw pictures of the sculpture, he knew it was his father’s work and sent us a picture of Mr. Lopez standing next to the sculpture.  Recalling that his parents spent their lunch hours watching Diego Rivera paint the Detroit Industrial Murals at the Detroit Institute of Arts in 1933, Jon observed that the sculpture is reminiscent of Diego Rivera’s style.

Justice? by F. Carlos Lopez Hanging in the Law School Atrium 

Tom Beach and Dean Crocker with wood carving
Tom Beach and Dean Phyllis L. Crocker with Justice?

Artist Carlos Lopez with Justice?
(courtesy of Jon Lopez)