An unusual wooden sculpture of first lady Melania Trump near her hometown in Slovenia was set on fire by vandals on the night of Fourth of July as Americans celebrated Independence Day, according to the artist who commissioned the statue.
Brad Downey, a Berlin-based American artist, posted a video Thursday on his Instagram account of the charred statue being removed. Downey could not immediately be reached for comment, but Slovenia police confirmed an investigation has been launched and that the statue was set on fire near the town of Sevnica.
"I want to know why they did it," Downey told the Reuters new agency.
According to a video published on his website, Downey hired a local carpenter to carve the quirky statue from a tree trunk. It has a rough-hewn face and its chief likeness to Melania Trump is that it was painted in a pale blue wraparound coat and dress similar to the one the first lady wore during the 2016 inauguration of her husband – President Donald Trump. The life-size statue was unveiled on July 5, 2019.
Downey told Reuters that the statue, named "Melania," was commissioned to encourage more conversation and dialogue about the politics of immigration given Trump's vow to reduce it. Melania Trump left Slovenia more than two decades ago to pursue a modeling career in the U.S. and hasn't returned to her hometown in more than 10 years.
A spokeswoman for Melania Trump did not return a request for comment on whether she or the president were aware of the statue, or that it had been disfigured by fire. In tweets and speeches, including in an address on July 3, Trump has vowed to take a hardline against anyone who vandalizes or tears down historical monuments in the U.S.
"Our nation is witnessing a merciless campaign to wipe out our history, defame our heroes, erase our values and indoctrinate our children," Trump told a crowd of more than 7,000 people before the Mount Rushmore monument in South Dakota.
A separate statue erected in Slovenia – mocking the U.S. president – burned to the ground in January. The nearly 26-foot tall wooden structure showed Trump with his trademark hair in a blue suit, white shirt and red tie. It featured a mechanism that enabled the statue's mouth to be opened revealing pointy teeth. The arsonists responsible for setting the statue alight still appear to be at large.
Sevnica, population approximately 5,000, sits in a valley next to the Sava River, about 50 miles from Slovenia's capital Ljubljana. The town dates to at least the 13th century. It is also where Melania Trump spent her youth when she was named Melanija Knavs.
Since Trump's election, Sevnica has sought to profit off its connections to the first lady.
When USA TODAY visited Sevnica in late 2018, the town's tourism office was selling "Melania" red wine for about $40 a bottle. It was described as a "harmony of taste and quality that satisfies even the most demanding wine lover and is also an exclusive and elegant present." Also for sale: Melania-branded beauty cream, chocolate and tea.
At Rondo, a pizza and burgers restaurant, owner Bruno Vidmar had added a "Presidential burger" to his menu. It featured a slice of fried yellow cheese on top of the bun to represent Trump's hair. Spicy pickles stood in for his "hot statements" on immigration, race and other topics. Rondo also served a cake inspired and named after Melania Trump: A white chocolate mousse, with nuts, that rested on a buttery crust and was adorned on top with a delicate sliver of gold-leafed white chocolate.
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Sevnica's tourist board said that visitors to the town had leaped since 2016.
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Melania Trump statue in Slovenia removed after fire