Iconic Mary Richards, a spunky Minneapolis Minnesota newswoman, portrayed by the effervescent Mary Tyler Moore, has her own 8 ft. bronze statue. Mary stands on the corner of Nicollet Mall and 7th St, the same spot Mary famously tossed her hat towards the sky in the opening credits of the 1970’s sitcom. The theme song, “Who can turn the world on with a song,” was her anthem. Mary is now housed inside a Visitor’s Center, which provides guests with a hat that can be tossed in the air for a photo shoot.

I have never visited this statue, a friend alerted me to her existence. But she is definitely on my “To Do” list.  When the statue was first erected in 2002 by Gwendolyn Gillen, she caused quite a stir. For those of you not familiar with the show, Mary was a trendsetter. She represented women everywhere when she broke free from the traditional role of wife and mother. Upon her death, her costar Dick Van Dyke, called her an urban legend who left an impression on the hearts of mankind.

I like to think I have a personal connection to Mary. She reminded me of my mother, a woman who also blazed the path for feminism. My mother, like many other women during WW11, embraced wartime as an opportunity to forge ahead in the workplace. She became an executive in the garment district and was often photographed wearing a wide-brimmed black hat that she “paid a lot for”. My mother wore that hat everywhere, and even though I never saw her throw it up in the air, I like to imagine she did.

Rumor has it that a concerned fan has provided Mary with a mask and gloves to keep her safe from the coronavirus. Of course, they did, she’s going “to make it after all.”

 

When I was 16, I went to Alaska with my aunt and uncle and two female cousins. I rode in a motor home with all the comforts of domesticity. I was the same age Sacajawea was when she served as an interpreter for Lewis and Clark on their Corps of Discovery Expedition. She was either pregnant or lugging a small child through uncharted territories from the Missouri River to the Pacific Ocean. My path led me from Long Island,  NY to Alaska, in the middle of the summer. We may have spent five days traversing the unpaved Alaska-Canada Highway, but nobody erected a statue in my honor.  Sacajawea had her likeness chiseled time and time again along the Lewis and Clark trail.

            The first and only statue I found of her in 1971 was located in Washington Park in Portland, Oregon. This bronze statue was roughly 8 ft, tall and had been dubbed “The Madonna of the Trail.” It’s easy to see why: Sacajawea is holding her son Jean Baptiste Charbonneau who accompanied her on the trial. Funded by The Women’s Suffrage Association, the statue was created by Alice Cooper and unveiled in 1905. Etched are these words: “Erected by the women of the United Sates in the memory of the only woman in the Lewis & Clark expedition, and in honor of the pioneer mother of Oregon.”  It’s not an impressive statue as far as statues go, but the words are an eternal message of hope and praise. Sacajawea acted as a Shoshone interpreter, and despite her youth, inexperience and foray into motherhood, her tenacity and bravery were well-respected.  Many people saw her as a beacon of peace. One of her favorite sayings, “Everything I do is for my people,” is still uttered in many indigenous circles.

            There are more statues of Sacajawea than any other woman in the USA. Don’t get me wrong, she’s amazing and deserves the bronze treatment. There have been a few recent additions erected along the landscape of America, many of which are glorious, especially the one in the Cascade Locks Marine Park and another one in Three Forks, Montana. But don’t take this the wrong way. Surely, there have been other incredible women in recent years worthy of a bronze bath. I’d be happy with copper, marble or even glass.

Care to nominate someone? Let’s dot the world with monuments of the matriarchy!

 

 

          I found the bronze statue of Emily Carr, a Canadian icon, while I was on a cruise to Alaska. The trip was winding down and Victoria, British Columbia was the last excursion before disembarkation in Seattle. Keep in mind that I had just spent 13 days exploring the glorious Pacific Northwest frontier and the Alaskan glaciers as my backdrop. Breath-taking at every turn doesn’t adequately describe the magnitude of the scenery. So, why did a small bronze sculpture of an eccentric woman with a monkey on her back pique my interest?

            First off, the statue is situated in the best spot along the harbor front; nestled in front of the Fairmont Empress Hotel, next to the BC legislative building. Jaw-dropping views of the deep blue sea and majestic Cascades mountains paint the backdrop. At night both the hotel and the government building light up like a twinkling cruise ship and a Disney castle, respectively. Before I go any farther, I need to tell you that Victoria is possibly the most gorgeous city in North America; it’s as if an offspring of a horticulturalist and a British architect designed the city with a mindset that it was best to err on the side of opulence. What did Emily Carr do to deserve a statue in such an aristocratic city, knowing full well that men are usually bestowed with ts honor?

            Emily, 1871-1945, was Canada’s most recognized modern painter. Her complicated life took her to San Francisco, London, Cornwell and Paris where she refined her craft and cultivated her style. She painted portraits, still life, landscapes and flowers but is known as the earliest chronicler of life in BC, especially that of the indigenous people of the Pacific Northwest. Her achingly beautiful artwork followed a “God as Art” style.

            A heart attack at a young age led her to pursue writing where she excelled in the genres of fiction and non-fiction. She even penned a ghost story.  In her later years she became a devout animal activist. The monkey on her back, which is not often spotted at first glance, is Woo, her pet Japanese monkey. I like to think he represents her exotic talent; and although it took a toll on her life, she guarded it and kept it close to her heart. Emily was a feminist who had to fight many battles to gain acceptance into the art world. But like many women of merit, she persisted. Most Canadians consider her to be the darling of the women’s movement. The statue, by Canadian sculptor Barbara Paterson, was erected in Oct. 2016 as part of Women’s History Month.

            Emily is a timeless treasure for any culture. I am glad she has been memorialized in bronze for the future. Long live the Queen of Canadian art!

 

Fearless Girl is a bronze sculpture by Kristen Visbal, commissioned by State Street Global Advisors via McCann New York. She was installed in March 2017. The statue depicts a girl facing the Charging Bull, or Wall Street bull as he is otherwise known. With hands on hips and feet planted firmly on the ground, Fearless Girl portrays bravery in the face of adversity. The sculpture was installed in anticipation of International Women’s Day. Since her installation, Fearless Girl has caused quite a stir with locals and tourists. You can find Fearless Girl and the Charging Bull in front of the NY stock market exchange.

I have not personally visited Fearless Girl but next time I get back to New York to visit family I will make it my business to snap a photo. But ever since I saw a photo of the statue, I can’t stop thinking about this brave girl. So I started a children’s picture book. You will notice how I slipped my profession into the story, seamlessly, I hope. 

 

            FEARLESS GIRL (a picture book in process)

            Feet planted firmly on the ground, chin held high, chest forward, hands behind her back, clenched in tight fists, Luiza was unmovable. With her fierce stance and flaming brown eyes, she was unbreachable.

            Not today, her body screamed.

            Louder it yelled. You will not charge at me. For today, it is me who is in charge.

            Then Luiza woke up covered in sweat. Blankets and sheets all in a tumble.

            “Fighting the bull again?” asked her mother as she shook out her daughter’s comforter.

            “He didn’t get me. I was too brave for him,” said Luiza, a nine-year old fourth grader.

            “Such a sweet dream,” said her mother.

            Luiza followed her mother into the kitchen where she was met by her sister and father, who were sitting at the table eating eggs rancheros.

            “If you only practiced more, your dreams would come true,” said Rosa, her older sister as she sprinkled salt onto slices of avocados.

            “I, I, I c-c-c can’t help it,’ said Luiza. “as soon as I wake up, the b-b bull grabs me by my t-t-t tongue.”

            “Then don’t let him do it,” said Papa. He sipped a large cup of black coffee.

            “Her speech therapist said she’s been using her smooth speech strategies in speech class,” said her mother.

            Luiza paced around the kitchen, opening drawers and closet doors. Her father took notice of her agitation.  “I think it’s time we showed her  how to take the bull by the horns,” he said.

 

xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx

That’s all for now. Perhaps you’ll find a finished version one day. Or maybe you want to write your own story. Either way, I hope you continue to read more about the way women can become empowered. One statue at a time!

 

 

           

           

           

 

 

 

The first statue that got into my blood and rendered me anemic was Joan of Arc. I was 17 at the time and visiting France with an International Studies Program. My mother had convinced me that I was named after Joan of Arc. She said Joan’s real name was Jeanne, as that was the traditional French spelling.  When I was a child and loved all things French like Madeline and Jean Marie books, French words like ohh la la and anything Parisian, my mother told me that when Joan was 14 years old, she led a revolution. Although I wondered about the “voices that spoke to her” and the “burned at the stake” business, I succumbed to the lure of Joan of Arc. She was a goddess and I was honored to have such a formidable namesake. Even though I read everything I could get my hands on, I wanted more. I wanted something that rang true.

            I went to Europe as my right of passage high school trip. Orleans, a fantastic small French city, was our host for four of the ten weeks. Joan of Arc and Orleans have a reciprocal relationship. The residents adore her and she showers them with riches, mostly in the form of tourism. The first time I laid eyes on the monument, situated in a large square in the middle of the city, I was gob smacked. Joan of Arc was a child! How could I have missed that critical piece of information? There was no way a teenager could became a legendary soldier, responsible for the 14th century freedom march. Was there? 

Sad to say, I left France with a nagging suspicion that there was much more to Joan of Arc’s story. But life got in the way, and I pushed her aside and dug into creating my own saga. Now that I’m retired and life has replaced my “have to do” list with a “want to do” list, I find Joan of Arc rising up in my in-box.

 

            There are a few ways I can go with this project: write a non-fiction chapter book for middle schoolers; create a picture book for younger kids or compose an essay for a literary magazine. But the question about how Joan, at age 14, sparked a revolution, still haunts me. But as I think about high school kids of today, perhaps we already have young people tooting a revolutionary horn. There is Greta Thunberg making noise about environmentalism and the Parkland survivors sounding the gun control alarm.

            Statues immortalize women who have made a difference. Without monuments, Joan of Arc would be flat and one-dimensional. Instead, she is a person of interest, one who has survived for centuries, chiseled in stone or etched in bronze, waiting for the future to uncover her.

            Check back in a few months. See if I’ve made any progress with the excavation process.

Overlooking the Missouri River, near Interstate 90, sits Dignity, a 50-foot other-worldly statue erected by South Dakota artist Dale Lamphere. Erected in 2016, Dignity is composed of stainless steel with pivoting blue diamonds that illuminate the night skies. The sculpture honors the culture of the Lakota and Dakota peoples, especially indigenous women, while representing honesty, generosity and bravery. Dignity (of Earth and Sky) is an enduring tribute to the inter-relationship between earth, sky, and people who share a belief that humanity is sacred.

            Tall and stately with the beauty and strength of a warrior princes, Dignity holds a star guilt behind her back. Star quilts were usually given as part of the ceremonial life and are used to signal respect and admiration. Only those that are highly revered are bestowed with a star quilt. Men typically receive the honor, yet here stands Dignity, her head held high, proudly displaying her star.

           

 

The second statue that piqued my interest was that of Waving Girl, a chiseled monument carved in the likeness of Florence Martus, a local woman who stood on the banks of Savannah for 44 years waving at passing ships. The statue, erected by the sculptor Felix de Weldon and commissioned by the Propeller Club of Savannah, sits in Morrell Park in the historic district of downtown Savannah. The massive sculpture dwarfs passerbys as they meander along the waterfront. Florence’s statue is waving a white flag and she is accompanied by her pet collie. I’m not sure if it was her close proximity to the hotel I was staying at or the mere fact that everywhere I turned something else about Florence would turn up – a ferry named in her honor; a huge official marker memorializing her located in the parking lot of Fort Pulaski; or  the numerous ghost stories that portrayed her as the real deal—but the statue wore at me

Truth is, the statue did much more than wear me down, it followed me home and nipped at my heels. Florence’s story about how she was waiting for the return of her boyfriend had so many holes in it, I found myself wanting to plug them. They were as annoying as the deep crevice’s the mole left on my front lawn. Surely the whole world can see the empty spaces. Who was Florence waiting for and why didn’t they ever return?  I did some research, thinking I could find a plausible explanation that would satisfy my wild imagination. But instead, I inhabited the story. Florence’s story became my obsession and I couldn’t rest until I had fleshed her out and unpacked her story. Feel free to read a short story that I wrote which was published in the Broadkill Review in their Nov. Dec. 2018 issue (see link). “The Waving Girl” was nominated for a Pushcart Prize. But I didn’t stop there, I turned the short story into a novel. “Waving Girl’s Last Stand’ is an unpublished braided novel; part ghost story, part historical fiction and part romance. All it needs now is an agent or editor to take it to publication.

            As soon as “Waving Girl” is press-ready, I will use this blog to launch her into the literary world.