Thursday, October 11, 2007
WHY I LOVE BIG STATUES: A Trip
This is Ezra Cornell and Bruce Strachan (my father) in Ithaca, NY, on August 17, 1952. The bronze is by Hermon Atkins MacNeil. You can buy a miniature version of it at:
http://www.georgeglazer.com/prints/portraits/ezracornell.html for $650 or so. MacNeil’s papers are at Cornell. An heroic sized casting of his statue called “Sun Worshipper“ is among the pieces in the Scriver estate in the Montana Historical Society.
"The Response: The National War Memorial in Confederation Square," Ottawa, Ontario, Canada. Designed by Vernon March of England and unveiled in May 1939 by King George VI. The memorial is over 63 feet high with 22 bronze figures. To the right is the Chateau Laurier where we had breakfast, my father rightly figuring that would be the cheapest meal for five of us. Mark and Paul had a fine time toasting each other with the stemmed grapefruit dishes, to the amusement of several businessmen peeping over their newspapers. My moment came (this was August 18, 1952) when a gnat was discovered swimming in my milk. My father called the headwaiter over and simply pointed. “Mon dieu!” shrieked that dignified man, and rushed off to the kitchen with my milk. I was mortified.
Concord, Mass, on Aug. 20, 1952. Monument to the “Embattled Farmer” -- the “Minute Man” who responded quickly to provide the “shot heard round the world,” the first resistance to the British in the Revolutionary War on April 19, 1775. The sculptor was Daniel Chester French, who first studied art with Louisa May Alcott’s younger sister Amy. He was only 25 when he did this sculpture which is very much adapted from the Apollo Belvedere, a cast of which was available for study at the Atheneum in Boston.
A new angle on the Statue of Liberty. The sculptor here was Frederic Auguste Bartholdi We didn’t get to go inside and go up in her head. The very idea fascinated a lot of people, including Bob Scriver who wanted to make a giant statue of Jesus with a hollow head so you could go up there and look waaaaay over the prairie. This was the 21st of August and it may have been the day that the subway doors began to close, cutting we kids off from our parents. A native New Yorker, standing nearby and reading his paper, simply reached out and put his hand on the door, which made it open again. We didn’t know about that, but we scampered through in a hurry. The man didn’t even look at us. He’d already seen everything. Once on the platform, we realized that we kids didn’t know the name of our hotel. In fact, our parents had to look at the key tag.
On August 23, the “Soldiers National Monument” on Gettysburg Battlefield, the spot where Lincoln gave his famous speech from notes on the back of an envelope. Randolph Rogers was the sculptor and the statues are more classically cut in marble -- not bronze. At the top is a female “victory” figure with laurel wreaths. Around the bottom are four figures, two male soldiers in uniforms and two symbolic female figures, one with a sheaf of wheat and the other with a pencil and pad. (Well, someone always has to take notes.)
Here’s another marble statue, easily recognized as the seated Lincoln in the Lincoln Memorial building, especially remarkable for the light. The sculptor was Daniel Chester French again and he had to really work hard to get the light to work. We were there on the 23rd of August. I don’t know what time of day. Some of the photos are really stunning because of sunset or sunrise. I’m not sure which direction Lincoln faces.
Rudulph Evans was the sculptor for this statue of Thomas Jefferson in the Jefferson Memorial in Washington, D.C. He was a Beaux Arts sculptor who worked with Rodin and Saint Gaudens, but who knows his name today? My father was a great admirer of Jefferson and owned a copy of his small pocket “Jefferson Bible,” which was the Gospels with all the miracles removed. I gave that little book to my cousin’s son, who is also an admirer of Jefferson. Recently a new statue of Jefferson was cast not far from here. It’s quite similar except that it was put in motion with a foot advanced foward and the coat blowing out behind. Quite nice but with much less “gravitas” which is what many people prefer in their national heroes.
Here’s Gutzon Borglum’s iconic presidential portraits. There’s a nice book about the whole harrowing process: “Gutzon Borglum: Artist and Patriot” by Willadene Price 1961, a paperback. "Great White Fathers: The True Story of Gutzon Borglum and His Obsessive Quest to Create the Mt. Rushmore National Monument" by John Taliafero is a much more modern and opinionated book. This photo was taken on Saturday, August 30, 1952, and we had no inkling at all that Indian activists would someday climb the trail behind in order to pour blood-colored paint down their faces. Neither did we realize how thin this bluff is. There’s not much stone behind the heads and someday the whole thing will cave off.
Sic transit gloria.
But statues last longer than people. My parents and the younger brother have died. I grew up and married a sculptor, Bob Scriver, who also died, but he left a few portraits of himself.