James O’Neill got an engineering degree from Georgia Tech but came back to the Okay Foundry, opened by his great grandfather and a crew of metal workers in 1912.

“I grew up around it. I have fond memories of being here as a child with my father,” he said. “He would put me out here working with them, and they would kind of take care of me and show me how to do stuff.”

Today the foundry makes fence, columns and posts for historic restorations.

But as cities all over the South remove confederate monuments, most are also debating what to do with these statues. 

In Charlottesville, members of city council have suggested melting them down and providing bronze to local artists who could make new sculptures from it. 

“It’s absolutely do-able,” O’Neil said. “You would just have to cut up the sculpture into smaller pieces so it fits in the furnace , and then melt it and pour it into something new. They can melt 600 pounds of bronze apiece. It takes a couple of hours to melt it.  It’s molten.  It flows like water.”

At $5.50 a pound, bronze is valuable stuff – used to craft sculptures that sell for $100,000 or more.

He knows some Virginians will be sorry to see the statues go, but O’Neil said they’re not great art. 

“Certainly the craftsmanship of these monuments is exquisite, but these are basically realistic renderings of horses with figures in military dress posed in a very similar fashion,” he said. 

“There’s not a lot of artistic expression I don’t think, but there are many of them all done in the same style that was done successfully and then rinsed and repeated many times.”

He hopes those who are dismayed by the disappearance of confederate monuments will be consoled by the creation of new jobs and opportunities in places like Richmond where foundries survive.