PORCH OF THE MAIDENS: KAPYATIE

“There is no beast, no rush of fire, like a woman so untamed. She calmly goes her way where even panthers would be shamed.”
― Aristophanes, Lysistrata

 

               As someone who gushes over statues of women the way others lick their lips in anticipation of a good meal, the prospect of uncovering numerous statues on my upcoming Mediterranean cruise caused me joy. But to my dismay, what I found was the equivalent of,  “I traveled from Barcelona to Athens via the Rock of Gibraltar and Istanbul and all I got was a t-shirt.” Yes, I found statues of women, but most of them were that of either the Virgin Mary, Mary Magdalene or goddesses such as Athena or unnamed, barely-clothed young maidens. Where were all the modern women who changed society by their incredible accomplishments? Where were all the ancient women who relied on their humanity, intelligence and strength to live harmoniously among the patriarchy? Were they all erased by history or merely ignored?

            I asked every tour guide on my trip if they could point out statues of women as we strolled along the cobblestoned streets, historic sites, eateries and museums (case in point: most of the guides were women so I figured that’d have a vested interest in my request-wrong!). Very few complied, except our guide in Athens who after a delicious authentic Greek meal, handed me (and my two travel mates) souvenirs of a white statue etched with the name “”Kapyatie.” He said we’d find the six sisters at the Erechtheion atop the Acropolis. We never made it. Turns out we didn’t have the correct paperwork needed to use the elevator. With an angry hand, I shoved the statue into my sac and forgot about her. When I was going through security (again) in Chicago, a scan revealed that the statue’s head had broken off in my carry-on. No worries, I thought, she’s mostly worthless. But when I got home, and held her in my hand, a connection to this small, fragile replica arose. Who was Kapyatie and why was she memorialized for all to remember?

            Kapyatie, which means “carved in stone” is a caryatid pillar that serves as an architectural support or column. Said to represent the pressure humans feel under the weight of destiny, philosophers believe these female figures symbolize courage. Despite the heaviness of the task, the maidens never abandon their post. Caryatids date back to 421-406 BC and while the Porch of the Maidens, originally clothed in bright colors was constructed in honor of Athena, the patron goddess of Athens, the maidens as a unit represent women doomed to hard labor.

            If you closely at the statues, you’ll notice they’re young, probably virgins, and elaborately dressed. It’s speculated they were sculpted to delight spectators with their beauty. Whether they were modeled after female deities or mortal women is unknown but it’s clear they were created to give the Greek community a supportive place to worship. To me, however, they provide a different message: Life is hard but for those that remain upright, sturdy and dignified, you’ll be rewarded with eternity glory.

Rock on, fair maidens! While you may appear complacent, it’s your understated elegance and hard exterior that survived the test of time. If anyone rebukes the importance of these six maidens, I ask this question: Centuries from now, who will be bowing at your feet?

THE 1898 WILMINGTON MEMORIAL

 

“Remember that hope is a powerful weapon when all else is lost.” Nelson Mandela

              

            I’m not sure why I always search far and wide for statues of women instead of looking close to home first, but with a few exceptions – Lady Justice, Waving Girl, Rachel Carson and the two historic makers in Raleigh and New Bern – that’s been my MO. But the other day as I was diverted into downtown Wilmington due to bridge work, I drove right past a local historic memorial and while it wasn’t a statue of women (or men either) I knew intuitively it was time to add this sculpture to the blog.

            TRIGGER WARNING: The story behind the sculpture is not pretty, although the statue itself is stunning. The problem is that the memorial makes us remember the 1898 riots which were steeped in racism and rooted in violence. It does not paint Wilmington, NC in a good light.

            DISCLAIMER: While I’m not originally from the south (born and raised in NY) I’ve been calling Wilmington home since 1994 and if I, as a resident, don’t take responsibility for past generations’ horrific acts, then history is doomed to repeat itself (I shudder at the thought). Especially now. Current national overtones and underpinnings are ripe for disaster. So listen, lean in and buckle up.

            BACKSTORY: While others have told this story better than I have (check out the Pulitzer Prize winning book, Wilmington Lie and the riveting middle grade novel, Crow). But I’ll do my best to convey the truth and not sugar coat the facts.

            After the end of the Civil war, many former slaves went to Wilmington to seek work, raise families and make something of themselves.  At the time, Wilmington was 56% black as well as the largest port for miles. Many former slaves succeeded and became productive members of polite society, becoming educated as doctors, lawyers and teachers. They held public office as elected officials. Their success angered many white males. The Civil War might’ve been over but the mindsets of many former slave owners hadn’t changed.  Tension arose. On Nov. 10, 1898,  “an armed mob of whites removed from office duly elected biracial government in what is considered to be the only successfully coup d’etat in the history of the United States” (from the inscription engraved on the wall of the memorial). Not Wilmington’s finest hour, to be sure.

            Black men were either killed or put on a train and told never to return. Women fled into the woods with their children and elderly family members. History is lax about the death count but fatalities were estimated to be between 10 and 300. One thing we do know for certain is that the violence was not accidental. It launched a statewide campaign which spread to other states in the south to regain control of the state government and disenfranchised blacks; and most importantly to create a system of legal segregation. The 1898 riots are said to have sparked the Jim Crow laws, some of which are still on the books. As I said, not a pretty story.

            The memorial has unleashed a renewed interest in this untold scandal.  To date, no one has ever been punished for this racial uprising. It’s been reported that President McKinley, a supporter of racial equality, knew about the coup but didn’t intervene for speculated bureaucratic/political reasons. Since then though, many statues of white men who most likely participated in the coup, have been either toppled or dismantled.

            THE 1898 MEMORIAL: The abstract sculpture, erected in Nov. 2008, consists of six elongated bronze paddles which honors water and symbolizes purification, renewal, rebirth, forgiveness, cleansing and wholeness. The Cape Fear River stands alongside the statue as a testament to a community, that 100 years later, finally has the courage to acknowledge the injustices of the past. The sculpture offers a future full of hope and reconciliation. The paddles remind us that through water, we can safely paddle from one world to the next.  We journey along the path in hopes that we “move forward together towards a society of greater justice and inclusion for all its citizens.”  

            While this story isn’t directly about women or feminism, it’s a knock on the white patriarchy and a reminder that we cannot let his kind of racism return.   

Hope in any form deserves to be written in stone, engraved in our souls for all eternity.

 

FOREVER MARILYN and VENUS De MILO: TWO BEAUTIES, CENTURIES APART

“Beauty is a power; a smile is its sword.” John Ray

I’ve chosen to post two statues this month rather than the usual solo monument  (yes, I know I did it before with Helen Keller and Anne Sullivan but that’s because they’re been molded together, forever in tandem). You could say the reason I’ve chosen to highlight Marilyn Monroe and Venus de Milo simultaneously has more to do with a happy coincidence than any kind of feminist agenda. Like most writers I’m rarely working on one thing at a time; there’s so much I want to say its hard to find a stopping point. This month while I was searching through my pile of possibilities;  a stack of statues that silently await their turn to be heard,  I made an unexpected connection between two beautiful icons.  The thing that joined these two monuments in perpetuity is their beauty- that rare quality that “the beautiful” wear as if it were a crown upon their head or a medal pinned upon their breasts. Something us mere mortals know nothing about.

I found Forever Marilyn first. She jumped right off the pile and into my line of sight. How could she not? At 26 feet tall, the statue of Marilyn Monroe is the embodiment of beauty and desire; a blond bombshell on a pedestal. Every inch of her is glorious. Simultaneously I was knee-deep in preparing for a Mediterranean cruise which terminates in Athens. I can’t turn a page about Greece culture or history without being bombarded with images of Venus de Milo/Aphrodite. Of course she’s the center of attention. Considered to be the most famous sculpture in the world, she’s also the standard of which all of classic Greek antiquities are measured. Besides, she’s the goddess of love, beauty and desire.  

Hmm. Two beautiful goddesses, on full display, both of them perfectly sculptured works of art.

        “Beauty awakens the soul to act.”  Dante Alighieri

Beauty, that combination of attractive qualities that pleases the aesthetic senses of anyone who experiences it, seems to be the common denominator between these two iconic statues. But can beauty be chiseled, carved or erected?

Let’s start with Marilyn. Forever Marilyn designed by Seward Johnson currently stands in a plaza in Palm Springs, California. The statue is based on a famous photo taken by Bernard of Hollywood in 1955 during the filming of Billy Wilder’s “The Seven Year Itch”  in which Marilyn is posed over a subway grate, her white dress lifted and billowing from the blowing steaming below, revealing her legs, underwear and possibly other feminine attributes, depending on your view or imagination. She’s without a doubt provocative, alluring and eye-catching. I see beauty when I look at her. But not everyone agrees with my assessment. Naysayer’s comments range from “in poor taste,” to “misogyny in the face of nostalgia,” to “pornography.” Lawsuits are pending. Readers, I ask this question: Is it the marble statue itself the haters object to or is it Marilyn Monroe’s innate and overt sexuality?

 Now let’s talk about Venus de Milo, a classical Greek statue, said to have been chiseled in the likeness of Aphrodite, the goddess of love, beauty and desire. Venus was created during the Hellenistic Period during the second century but she wasn’t excavated until 1820 on the Island of Milo (hence the name). What a stir she created! Venus or Aphrodite, depending on whether you’re following Greek or Roman mythology, is rumored to have enticed both gods and powerful men into illicit affairs with her beauty, just by whispering sweet nothings’ in the ears.  (We could say the same thing about Marilyn Monroe.  Remember her sultry “Happy Birthday, Mr.  President” rendition?) When found, the statue of Venus was topless, a shroud covering her thighs and feminine parts. She’s now on display in the Louvre in Paris, France where nobody seems to object to her semi-clad state. Is it because Venus is an antiquity, a priceless work of art, and is off limits to public scrutiny and outcry?

If we look back at the two questions posed earlier, I’d have to infer that Venus, unlike Marilyn, doesn’t seem to conflict with modern feminism (it seems antiquities are held to a different standard). Then there’s the whole goddess part with its own rules of behavior and measures of beauty. Society gives Venus de Milo a pass. Yes, it could be her slender size that humanize her or her missing arms that evoke vulnerability and instead of feeling threatened by her beauty and perfect proportions, we feel awe and grace in her presence.  Forever Marilyn, on the other hand, is considered to be too sexy, too seductive, not to mention larger than an over-sized building. In many ways, we feel dwarfed by her beauty.  

 Statues are a unique species of women. Once we put them on a pedestal, it automatically  places them on a higher plateau. We genuflect, and depending on your perspective of what constitutes sinner or saint, we can either honor and admire or vilify and deface.

Where do you stand in the face of these two beauties?

RITA THE ROCK PLANTER

“If you love the forest, the trolls will protect you.” Commissioned by Morton Arboretum for Troll Hunt, dismantled in 2022

 

            Most of the monuments and statues in this blog are created in the likeness of a woman who’s contributed to the feminist movement in a substantial way (see Joan of Arc, Ruth Bader Ginsberg, Flannery O’Connor). On occasion I’ve depicted statues based on legends, folklore or mythology (see Umi, the Curvy Mermaid, Fierce Girl). This is the first time I’m venturing into the whimsical world of trolls; those non-human creatures who live in rocky areas, caves and forests who strive to live in balance with nature and all of earths’ beings. During these divisive times, we could all use a heroine who chooses to root out debris and clear the world from mankind’s mishandling of nature. This time, it’s not just the patriarchy that’s at fault. It’s all of us on the planet and with Earth Day approaching I wanted to remind us that wastefulness, greed and selfishness cannot be tolerated.

            Rita the Rock Planter, who resides in Victor, Colorado, is an environmentalist extraordinaire. She’s created by Danish sculptor Thoman Dambo, and is part of his ambitious goal of erecting 16 trolls in 17 continent, with an ultimate total of 1,000 trolls. Rita is made of 100% recycled word products and is a symbolic manifestation of greed. The legend that surrounds Rita tells about a mining town in the 1800’s where Rita lived and roamed in the forest. Frustrated by the miners depletion of the region’s natural resources and angry at herself by her limited efforts to stop them, she went into a cave to take a short nap to regain her strength. Exhausted, she didn’t wake up until hundred year later. What she saw made her weep. Not only was her beautiful land devastated but nobody had reigned in the miners.  They took, took and took until there was nothing left to take. Tarnished, ransacked and depleted, the town and its pristine mountain landscape and gently rolling hills was covered with large holes, mostly filled with enormous rocks, debris and trash. Worrying that someone might fall into the crevices and get hurt she franticly removed the rocks and garbage as she filled the holes with dirt. A soft landing for a fellow friend. She toiled long and hard to recapture a once beautiful landscape.

          Perhaps you’d like to help her continue the job. There’s much to do. Raise awareness. Honor nature. Become environmental responsible. Repurpose materials. Conserve resources. Fight devastation and depletion of all of the earth’s natural gifts. Plant a garden. Find new innovative ways to live harmoniously. Share. Conserve. Repurpose. Cooperate. Innovate. Think globally.

            Rita might not be the coolest troll (Shrek and Fiona come to find). You might not even think she’s the prettiest (Norwegians bestow that award to  Huldra, a beauty with the tail of a cow). She’s not even the scariest (ever since I was a kid I trembled in the presence of the troll who lived under the bride in the 3 Billy Goats Gruff). But to me, she’s the Queen of Environmentalism, the altruistic step-sister of Mother Earth. There’s no rest for her as she tirelessly clears our path for a cleaner, friendlier and safer planet.

            Brava Rita! Rock on! We’ll enjoy you efforts for as long as long as you continue to toil. Readers, next time you see a piece of trash, pick it up. Whenever you see someone needlessly harvesting resources, call them out on it. Think of Rita as you refill your recycle bin. Stop trolling the internet and get outside. Now!

 

LADY JUSTICE

“Justice is always there, waiting for good people to find their voice.” Preet Bharara

 

            I didn’t have to search too far to find this month’s monument of the matriarchy. She was almost in my backyard (my son’s backyard actually, or rather in his neighborhood). It started with a trip to Barnes & Noble (Children’s section). A lovely drawing of Lady Justice, smiling brightly on the cover of Preet Bharas’s beautiful picture book, “Justice Is: A Guide for Young Truth Seekers,” caught my eye. Then after a brief internet search, I learned out that a few black lawyers in Durham had commissioned a sculptor to create a bronzed statue of  Lady Justice. I knew I had to hop in the car and snap her photo.

            North Carolina, like many other southern states, has a complicated history with statues (Silent Sam, Robert E Lee and other Confederate heroes). Over 95% of the statutes erected over the past few centuries were that of white men. If you’ve been following the news, you’ll know that many of these statues have been toppled by protestors or removed by public opinion (PTL). To make amends, many southern states have been replacing these male statues with monuments  of women and people of color. North Carolina, especially  Durham, has been hard at work trying to right a centuries-long wrong.

            The result is Lady Justice, a 14-foot bronzed statue. Lady Justice perches proudly on her pedestal in front of black lawyer’s office. She’s blind-folded because “we’re all the same in the dark.” Lady Justice is a symbol of unity and equity. According to Wikipedia, “Lady Justice is an allegorical personation of the moral face of the judicial system.” Besides the blindfold, you can see scales, which represent the balance and weight of the evidence. Take a closer look and you’ll also notice a sword, which is said to show that justice aims to punish the unjust. Often a snake appears at the feet of Lady Justice which symbolizes that justice will prevail even in the face of negative forces. Lady Justice is rooted in mythology. Based on the Roman goddess, Themis, and the Greek goddess, Justica, she’s served the world for centuries. Truth, bravery and fairness are the cornerstones of humanity.

            Justice is multidimensional and moves in many directions: Social, restorative, environmental, educational, political and even criminal. In light of the divisiveness that’s happening today in our very divided world, the notion of justice is a bright light. My hope for the future. Right now, nobody seems to have a handle of what justice looks like, who deserves it and who should provide it. In this time of upheaval and confusion,  let’s just follow Lady Justice’s lead. Justice For All.

 

For more on justice, please read an excerpt from my young adult novel, A WOLF AT THE DOOR.

Summary: Gary and Amy are two high school sweethearts when their world is knocked upside down by the Vietnam War and an unwanted pregnancy. Separately, they encounter two wolves, Blind Faith and Zen, who offer to help them navigate through the underbelly of trauma. Howling ensues.

 

“Faith, I want you to cut out the warrior part in me,” Gary says. “I hate him. Erase him from my memory.”

“Gray, that’s never going to happen. The Samurai learn to live with the darkness. You can’t change your experiences any more than you can alter your blood type. You need to find a way to live with all parts of yourself, even the ones you don’t like.”

“Please, I can’t face anymore darkness. Tell me a story with a happy ending.”

“All stories have happy endings, even when they don’t seem so at first. But let’s move on. Today we have the next principle, Justice, to discuss.” She nuzzles Gary’s neck with her nose. “Tell me, Gray, have you ever heard of the Justice League?”

“You mean the comic book heroes that save the universe by using the cardinal virtues of humanity?”

“That’s the one. You see, the Justice League administers law and order and determines what’s right and reasonable. The Samurai are also a Just group who watch out for injustice. A warrior won’t raise his sword until provoked by the Unjust.”

“I’m afraid I’m one of the Unjust.”

“Nonsense. You were abducted by Viet Cong extremists and then forced to do things against the grain of your soul. A gun to a head makes men compliant and obedient.” 

“How can you know that the things I did aren’t just part of who I am?” 

“Because I wouldn’t be here otherwise. Only those pure of heart and full of light can summon the wolf spirit.”

 

 

“The only thing worse than being blind is having sight but no vision.” Helen Keller

“We twirl across the deck like two untouchable stars, twinkling as sunlight glints off the sea around us.”                    

Anne Sullivan

 

            If you’ve been reading this blog, you’ll know that I consider myself to be a speech-language pathologist who writes. As an slp, I have heroes and people in the industry I admire: one such person in Anne Sullivan. Although Anne wasn’t a licensed speech-language pathologist, she certainly was instrumental in facilitating communicative competence in Helen. Not everyone paid attention to Anne though, or dare I say “the woman behind the communication curtain,” although Mark Twain noticed. In fact, it was Mark who coined the term “miracle worker” in praise of Anne’s decades long and remarkable work with Helen.

            I’m also deviating a bit with the photo. Instead of posting a picture of a statue (there are two if you want to explore; one with Helen in the “water pump” scene from The Miracle Worker, found at the capital build in Alabama and another one of Anne and Helen at the Tewksbury Alhouse in Alabama) this month I chose a postage stamp. Don’t get me wrong, I love statues but when I picked up a dozen stamps from the local post office, I felt empowered as I affixed stamps of Annie and Helen onto all my postage. It made me smile just thinking about all the recipients rediscovering this amazing duo.

            Now, let’s talk about Anne. Born in 1866, her childhood rivaled that of Frank McCourt, writer of Angel’s Ashes (use poverty-stricken rural white southerners instead of Irish families and you get my drift.) When Anne was five she contracted an illness which left her partially blind. At age eight after both her parents died, she and her younger brother were sent to the home for the destitute (where her brother soon died). Amid rumors of extreme squalor and foul play investigators were sent to the home. Anne cornered one of them and shouted, “I want to go to school.” Her bravery worked and she was sent to The Perkins School for the Blind where she learned finger-spelling and braille. Anne thrived. At age 20, she graduated and got a job teaching a deaf-blind child to communicate, become socially adept, and gain literary skills. A tall task which she more than surpassed.

            Helen’s turn now. Helen, author, disabilities advocate, political activist, humanitarian and renown lecturer, lost most of her sight and hearing at 19 months after suffering from a brain fever.  Born in 1880 to affluent parents, doctors recommended institutionalization. Instead, her parents hired a young and inexperienced teacher. It worked. Together, they made history.

            Anne became the “eyes and ears of the world,” although she herself was partially blind. Helen became the symbol of disability awareness. Their message was this; with hard work, education, training and discipline you could overcome a disability. Yes and no. It also required great teamwork and foresight. While it was Anne who helped Helen break the communication code (sounds form words and those words have meaning). Powerful stuff for a deaf- blind child to process. Anne continued to be a part of Helen’s life for decades (Helen even lived with Anne and her husband John Macy). She assisted Helen with her speaking engagements, travel plans, and writing (mainly done through either finger spelling or braille). She also interpreted her monologues (see YouTube- Helen Keller Speaks out). Even though Helen’s voice was mostly unintelligible from the viewpoint of an slp, Anne was able to sift through her prosody, inflection and vocal nuances to uncover her cryptic messages.

            The Miracle Worker always makes me cry, especially the water pump scene- but, no, it wasn’t the inspiration for my career path (a story for another day). Here is where I usually encourage you to dot the landscapes with statues of remarkable women who’ve made great achievements to the matriarchy. But for Anne and Helen, I suggest you dot your postage with this remarkable partnership. Let’s honor and memorialize these two strong women, joined in the sisterhood of disabilities awareness. Oh, how high they soared!

            Rock on, Ladies.

 

HISTORICAL MARKERS: Women etched, not chiseled

“God cannot alter the past, though historians can.” Samuel Butler

           Looking for statues is like going on a treasure hunt. Sometimes I’m lucky and she’s easy to find, almost as if she wants me to seek her out (see Umi, Oct 2023). Other times I need to follow the clues because she’s either adjacent to where I’m traveling (see Luna Girls, June 2020) or hiding off the beaten path (see Reproductive Freedom Monument, March 2023). But more often than not, I come up short and wind up improvising (see Sedona, Nov. 2023). Recently, though I added historical markers to my search, hoping I might be more successful. And guess what? Women suffer the same fate in this category- less women’s names or accomplishments have been etched on markers as their male counterparts. It shouldn’t have surprised me, but it did.

            What exactly are historic markers and why are the names on them mostly members of the patriarchy? Same old story, I’m afraid. Either men were uninterested in what women were doing or were jealous of them and thus sabotaged or silenced their accomplishments; burying their names to keep future generations from getting any (intellectual, economic or entrepreneurial) ideas. Or men wanted women written out of history.

          Historically, markers began in the United States in the last 1920’s as a way to mark, name, or identify a plot of land as having historical merit or significance. They became  a symbolic inscription; territorial place holders that said: Something happened here. Their purpose was to educate, inform and raise awareness. Take note. Remember this place, person or event. Not all memories are pleasant, some, downright horrific. But we must be the historians who don’t alter the past. Inscribe it as it was. Include everyone. Don’t leave anything out.

          Most markers are state/locally funded and maintained. The good news- there’s a national  movement funded and organized by the National Collaboration of Women’s Historic Sites that will install 250 markers of women suffragettes who raced on the road to the 19th Amendment. Sometimes markers are used instead of statues because they’re less expensive to install, take fewer hours to develop and don’t take up as much space. The downside is that most markers are made of aluminum which has a much shorter shelf life than stone. But it’s a good start.

          Here are a few markers of note I uncovered on recent trips: Meredith College in Raleigh, NC installed a marker to recognize outstanding females in the field of mathematics ; Bayard Wootten, an artist, installed in Tryon Palace in New Bern, NC, was a pleasant surprise. In New Hampshire, I not only discovered a marker but I found controversy. No sooner was the marker for Elizabeth Gurly Flynn known as “The Rebel Girl” installed, naysayers petitioned to have it removed because of her unorthodox belief system (there is currently another legal battle to have it re-installed).  Ms. Flynn’s statue is one of 275 that are being installed statewide to recognize influential people from the Revolutionary War to contemporary era (so far, her marker is the only one that’s been uninstalled). Makes me wonder if it was her gender and not her politics that fuel the opposition.

         Ho hum. Progress is being made, but slowly. We can do better. Be proactive. Start in your home town. Find women who’ve had made significant contributions to society and petition to have a statue erected (think big) or a historical marker. Collaborate with businesses with deep pockets, access to grants or those with political clout.   Keep in mind, the past was not kind to women, people of color and those with different sexual orientation. We need to right the wrongs. One marker, one statue at a time. If historians can alter the past, as Mr. Butler surmises, then they can also alter the present landscape. Clusters the markers if you can; turn it into a trail or pathway.

       The more women’s names and accomplishments we can chisel or etch into stone or medal is a win. Our daughters, granddaughters and great granddaughters will be grateful. Men will thanks us too, if they already haven’t.

“If we follow the ancestral line of our umbilical chord from our mother to her mother’s mother, and so on down the line, we’ll reach our primal mother – the one we all share.”                                                                          Ilchi Lee

 

 

          For the most part, whenever I post a statue it’s the kind that’s meant to last -if not for all eternity- but certainly for centuries. That’s why many of the statues or monuments I usually seek out are carved from stone, like granite or marble or etched out of heavy metals such as bronze or silver. Enduring, long-lasting, sustainable are words to describe them. Yes, I’ve dabbled a bit with performance art, puppetry and busts that are more fragile and have a shorter shelf-life, but the premise is always the same; we erect a statue of a woman so we can memorialize her and continue to remember and honor her, long after the 21st.,  22nd or even the 23rd centuries have ended. I’m oddly comforted by the seemingly immortality of monuments. I know that eternity is not mankind’s gift to bestow but I’d hoped the monuments could dot the landscape and thus change its direction, far into the future. A sort of men vs. women competition with scorecards and prizes. Then I met Umi.

          Let me tell you about her. Umi was created by Daniel Popper, a well-renown multidisciplinary artist from South Africa whose work can be seen across the globe in such places as Florida, California, Chicago and Mexico. Mr. Popper specializes in larger than life human-like sculptures made of natural fibers like wood and fiberglass, then cast in resin. Umi means many things in a variety of language; in Swahili, Umi means life; in Arabic Umi means mother; and in Japan the word means ocean. According to Mr. Popper’s website, he based Umi’s origin on Gaia, from Greek mythology. Gaia can be seen as the personification of the earth, the ancestral mother, the mother of creation and the parthenogenic creator of all life, often known as the virgin creation (considered unnatural in humans).

          Wow! The more I learned about Umi the greater my fascination grew. It’s said that the goddess Gaia oozed from Chaos, the primordial god of nothing, and then, by herself, Umi birthed all of mankind, including the earth or Terra Mater, and all its descendants and natural wonders. When I first found Umi, a 21-foot art installation, standing alone in a ravine in Aurora, Colorado in a new art park amid a huge housing development that was only 2% completed, I gasped. First because of her beauty and secondly because I worried that since she was made of wood and other perishable fibers, she’d one day wither away or burn like the rest of us. Yet Umi stood her ground. The longer I looked at her, the word endangered flew out of my mind. Tall, and fierce she depicted the convergence of woman and tree. Mother Earth and Mother Nature run amok, but in a good way  Embraced by branches, which gave the impression of hair, the roots formed a dome-shaped empty space that could be viewed as her womb, which she appeared to be holding, like the way a pregnant woman often rests her hands on her abdomen, as in a protective mode. The statue, considered to be interactive, invites visitors to enter the void and feel the nurturing essence of motherhood and the symbolic relationship between the earth and humanity. Not once in all of this, does Umi, or her predecessor Gaia, separate the men from the women. She refers to the earth and all its inhabitants as humanity. We could all learn a lesson from our ancestral mother.

          I remain in awe of her magnificence. She’s bigger than life, yet fragile, empty while being full, and with kind eyes and a warm embrace, she projects peace as well as strength. Honor, cherish and experience her. Word to the wise: Umi is, at least for the moment, hard to find. The best way to locate her is to call the Aurora Chamber of Commerce and ask them to give you the address. Persist. Umi is glorious, everything a goddess should be; and she meets all my criteria for what constitutes a monument of the matriarchy. Even though she isn’t chiseled in stone, she still rocks.

Rock on, Umi!

 

 

WOMEN’S PLAZA OF HONOR @ The University of Arizona/Tucson

Celebrating Women’s Lives- Past, Present and Future

 

            Wherever I travel I’m on the lookout for monuments of the matriarchy; and my recent trip to Tucson and Sedona turned out to be quite productive (see September’s entry). I was pleased to find that smack in the middle of downtown Tucson, on the campus of UA, near the Gender Studies Program, sits the Women’s Plaza of Honor dedicated to the Women of Arizona whose contributions to society have made a difference, not just to the southwest, but to the world at large. I felt like I’d hit the statue lottery.

            The plaza consists of six wings or arches that highlight a variety of accomplished women: Inspirational Women; Women of the 1540 Cibola Journey, African American Women, Southern Arizona women, Women Activists, and Women Lawyers. Who are these women and what have they done to get their name chiseled in granite to be memorialized in perpetuity? For the most part, they’re ordinary women who when faced with the complexities and injustices of life used creative outlets to become extraordinary. While hundreds of women, are represented by having their name engraved on the monument, I’ll briefly highlight five: Margaret Sanger, Sandra Day O’Connor, Women of the 1540 Cibola Journey (as well as other indigenous women of color),  African women from the Chapter of the Links and my niece, an art therapist with creativity and empathy to spare.

            Margaret Sanger, born in 1879, a time when women were second class citizens, was instrumental in taking women’s rights into the next century. After working as a nurse, she became a birth control activist and sex educator writer. Tirelessly advocating for women, she later formed Planned Parenthood, an organization that to this day, delivers vital reproductive health care, sex education, and information to millions of people worldwide. Unfortunately, Ms. Sanger passed away a year before birth control— for all women – was legalized. She proclaimed, “No woman can herself be free who does not control her own body.”

            Sandra Day O’Connor, born in 1930, died at the age of 93. Intelligent and perseverant,  she became the first woman to serve on the Supreme Court of the United States. Politically conservative, she still worked against discrimination of women, something she most certainly encountered in her lifetime.

            African American women of Arizona such as Dr. Doris Ford, Etta Mae Dawson and Tommie Thompson were instrumental in securing scholarships for women of African American ancestry through the Tucson Chapter of the Links. Each woman, a champion in her own right, not only faced adversity but persevered. Strong, fierce and tenacious are their adverbs. Check out their names as well as many others chiseled on the arch.

            The Women of the Cibola Journey, who accompanied the Spanish explorer Francisco Vázquez de Coronado on the search for the mythic empire of riches known as the Seven Golden Cities of Cibola, found themselves in an epic fight for their lives. As the story goes, the myth supposedly created by the Zuni Pueblo tribes living near the border between Mexico and Arizona, was a lie, created to throw off the “savage explorers” who rampaged, raped and pillaged their way through the southwest, wreaking havoc wherever they went. This ill-fated group of Spanish explorers, however, are credited with the first sightings of the Grand Canyon and the Colorado River. Throughout their two-year trek, numerous indigenous people, most of them women, were taken against their will to serve as free labor and entertainment. Despite all efforts, the golden cites were never located. I’ve not heard about this wild journey before but it brought tears to my eyes. I’m glad Arizona honors these women by making their story known. Women are not property, to be dragged along, kicking and screaming.

            The Inspirational Women of Arizona arch was my favorite. It’s a place where any woman with ties to Arizona, past, present or future, can be memorialized for their accomplishments. Like my niece (she’s not engraved on the arch, but I’m optimistic). Perhaps you can nominate yourself. New names are added yearly. All you have to do is achieve, succeed and make noise. As the saying goes, “well-behaved women rarely make history.”

            The Women’s Plaza of Honor is a special place to relax, contemplate, meditate or just bask in the sun. We need more of these group memorials where everyone can honor, remember and revere these brave women who not only shattered the glass ceiling but created a spot where ceilings will never hold anyone back again.

            Women rock! Today, tomorrow and yesterday. Next time you travel, do what I do. Find statues of extraordinary women and bask in the glow of their brilliance. They will inspire you, as they do me.

 

SEDONA: RED ROCK MONUMENTS

“Carve out a place for yourself. Aspire to new plateaus.” llan Shamir

 

            If you’ve been reading this site for a while you’ll know I’ve stayed close to my original premise, which has been to honor statues of women and raise awareness to the paucity of monuments delegated to the matriarchy. But this month’s entry, I deviate and include other-worldly monuments found in nature, particularly those red rock spires or buttes found in Sedona, Arizona.

            On a recent trip with my husband to visit our niece in Arizona I became bewitched by the beautiful red rock formations that adorned Sedona. I’m not naïve to nature’s wonders, I’ve already experienced the beauty of the Grand Canyon and Niagara Falls, but they still didn’t prepare me for the intensity of enchantment I felt for Sedona and the stronghold it clamped upon my psyche. Simply put, I became entranced by the vortex, or spiraling energy that wheels and turns throughout the region, often eliciting a meditative aura and metaphysical state of euphoria. Before you roll your eyes, hear me out. Listen while I convince you why the red rock monuments at Sedona, or at least Cathedral Rock, should be included in my litany of monuments dedicated to the wonderfulness of women.

            Sedona, with its red rock vistas and vortex of spiritual energy, is often called “a museum without walls.” It’s easy to see why. The views are not only spectacular, the vivid colors are so striking they shine with luminosity, as if the gods had kept the best hues for themselves. Sedona, formed by the fracturing of the western edge of the Colorado plateau, is said to contain 4 distinct vortexes that channel an inflow and outflow of masculine and feminine energy. The first vortex we visited was the Sedona Airport, high atop a hill, where the electrical charge is said to strengthen masculine energy. The views were so amazing I wanted to proclaim myself King of the Hill, but none of us tingled or buzzed with newfound energy. Bell Rock, the second vortex we stopped at, proposes to enhance aspects of femininity and masculinity while prompting these opposing parts of the self into a more harmonious and balanced state. It’s a gorgeous formation carved to look like a bell and while we were bedazzled by the monument, none of us felt the earth move, pivot or rotate. Yet. After we left, I couldn’t help but marvel at the deep carvings, supposedly formed during an inhospitable time on earth. To be honest, Sedona’s entire vista looked as if the red rock formations were strategically placed or created by a higher power. PHEW! A few hours in Sedona and I’m envisioning a scenario that only one versed in New Age teachings, tarot cards or palm readings could fathom. Much to my surprise, Bell Rock had found a way to calm my inner turmoil with its sereneness and innate optimism.

            On a crunch for time, we skipped Boynton Canyon. Instead, we headed to Cathedral Rock, where we found the best view in the whole region. Once atop a steep rocky mountain outcrop where dozens of other red rock formations came into the forefront, we were treated to a 360-degree panoramic landscape. My husband, who suffers from vertigo, felt dizzy at the summit. My experience differed, possibly because Cathedral Rock is said to aid feminine aspects of the divine. Where my husband experienced nausea, I felt the whirl of the vortex spinning through me like a hypnotic tsunami. It was similar to the sensation you get when jumping on a trampoline, right before you plummet, when you’re still suspended in midair: light, buoyant and boundless. Helen Ready’s powerful lyrics, “I am Woman. Hear me Roar” soared through me. I reigned supreme.

            Did I experience an epiphany atop Cathedral Rock? Did the vortex infiltrate my inner sanctum?

            While my time at Sedona didn’t yield any long-lasting psychic healings, chakra alignments, karmic cleanings and I didn’t find my divine purpose, I still got caught up in an emotional blizzard of cosmic energy. There’s no denying that Sedona fills you with an undeniable magical essence. It’s as if the rock formations were created for the sole purpose of bringing beauty, spiritualty and enchantment to our world.

            I think the reason I felt the spark at Cathedral Rock was because I believe in the power of monuments, whether manmade or natural. All statues, carved or chiseled, are tributes to the Spectacular. They’re an homage to the Ones who are a cut above the rest, whether they sit on a pedestal or a rock; they dot the landscape with physical reminders that the world is luminous and the people in it are equally monumental. 

            Rock on, my friends and readers!

MARY FLANNERY O’CONNOR (1925-1964)

Celebrated Southern Gothic writer of short stories, letters, essays and novels

“The truth doesn’t change based on our ability to stomach it.” FO

 

            Recently I visited Savannah, Georgia for an anniversary retreat and while I was there I checked on the first statue I ever wrote about: Waving Girl. Turns out, Florence Martus is thriving and now has her own memorabilia which will come in handy when my novel, Waving Girl’s Last Stand, drops. Just kidding- I’m still waiting for the elusive agent to reveal themself.

            But while I was on a ghost tour enjoying the most haunted city in America, I stumbled upon Flannery O’Connor’s childhood home. Since someone once compared her stinging language with my own dark and wry writing style –it was only the one time but the comment gave my writing buoyancy – I jumped at a chance to learn more about her. When I went home and goggled her, thinking someone had already memorialized her with a monument, I found nothing. I was shocked because during the tour of her home I learned that a group of English professors had garnered funding to restore her home and turn it into a museum. Certainly there was more. All I found, bedsides a dollish puppet-like replica of her found in the home, was a bust of her sculpted by Italian artist, Valentine Mazzei, in Sept. 2011. She was part of a series of portrait busts (such as Emily Dickinson, Virginia Woolf, Gertrude Stein and Carson Mc Culler) about women who had made significant contributions to the field of writing and had impacted the artist deeply with their emotional truths. The bust is now part of the Chicago Loyola’s University Center for Catholic Intellectual Collection.

            There’s so much to say about Flannery (she dropped her given name Mary after publishing her first work, The Geranium in 1946). She was a woman with a prolific writing career during her short life-span of 39 years. Even after her diagnosis of lupus (a disease where the immune system attacks the organs in the body), which is the same illness that contributed to her father’s untimely death, she went on to publish 2 novels, 31 short stories, and numerous essays and letters. In 1972 (eight years after her death) she was awarded the National Book Award for Fiction for her collected works, The Complete Stories, still considered to be one of the best short-story collections.  If you haven’t read her genius-level writing, often referred to as having an offbeat humor while depicting the unsavory acts of humanity, I suggest you start with her tour-de-force short story, A Good Man is Hard to Find, which is arguably the best title of any work ever published. The story highlights her brilliant use of grotesque characters in violent situations often engaging in battles of good vs. evil where the villain isn’t always easy to find. Definitely my kind of writer.

            Now for the dark side, and with an author who thinks revulsion and soul-eating revelations are for catechism classes, there’s going to be a group of naysayers who want to make sure any thoughts of a bronze statue ever leave the artist’s sketch pad. As a southern girl, born Irish Catholic and reared in an environment where bigotry ran rampant (and not just toward people of color as evidenced by this SC sign “Help wanted: No Irish Need Apply) some non-fans have claimed that her writing is inherently embedded with racism. I’m going to lean into Angela O’Donnell’s 2020 non-fiction book, Radical Ambivalence; Race in Flannery O’Connor, where she believes Flannery was limited by her time and place and the culture of bigotry that birthed her. Flanner followed a southern code of manners yet many of her white characters are despicable human beings who meet violent ends. Some scholars will give her writing a color pass (she was a rare brave writer who told the truth, warts and all, damn the consequences) while others point to her personal letters where she spoke her mind. But mining her private life until you find a morsel of evidence is like finding her clothesline full of laundry where everything has blown away except her lacy black bra and then using her undergarments to imply she was immoral. I guess fact-checking hadn’t been invented yet.

            As for the woman who’s been deemed “the mother of the modern short story,” Flannery’s writing is rooted in outlandish content and then flavored in satire and then marinated in mystery until it evokes a visceral response. A potent recipe that doesn’t go down well with everyone. 

            However, we need women like her to be remembered and memorialized. She’s the kind of women we should still be talking about centuries from now. Yes, we have her writings, now translated into to 20 languages, her portrait bust and a small museum in SC. These are all good starts. But we need more of her. Bigger, brighter, shinier, louder; just like her.

            Readers, we can make this happen. Let’s not rest until the landscape of our world is dotted with monuments of the matriarchy. Bronze. Marble. Granite. Stone. Silver. Glass.

            Women lag way beyond men in the statue race. Let’s even the score.

            Get chiseling!

THE CURVY MERMAID

The little mermaid isn’t so little anymore.

 

          In Monopoli, Italy a group of students at the Luigi Rosso Art School were commissioned to sculpt a sea creature to honor Rita Levi-Montalcini, a former Italian senator and neurobiologist who’d been awarded the Nobel Prize in Physiology Medicine (with Stanley Cohen) for the discovery of nerve growth factor. A local council approved the sketches of a plus-sized mermaid. But when the sculpture was unveiled to be a curvy statue with a large booty and cleavage, it made more than a big slash. It sent social media into a tsunami of controversy. But can a statue be too sexy or even obscene? Should we censor anatomically-correct sculptures because they make us feel uncomfortable? How big is too big?

            Seriously folks. Don’t we have bigger fish to fry?

            I normally shy away from highlighting statues that don’t showcase real women of substance who’ve made historic contributions to society (but I’d say Rita Levi-Montalcini meets that stringent criteria). If you follow my blog you’ll find I’ve already made exceptions for sculptures and performance art pieces that showcase feminism, humanity and equality (see Fearless Girl, The Embrace, Amal, Gullah Woman).

            Besides, there’s already another mermaid statue in Denmark. She was carved in the likeness of merfolk and water nymphs in Hans Christian Anderson’s folk tale of a young mermaid who’s willing to give up her sea life for an immortal soul. But it’s a dark story where she trades her voice for legs and although there’s a prince, a happy ending is debatable. Then there are the two Disney tales; the animated version from 1989 and the live-action movie from 2023. All three of these tales have something in common- all of the mermaids are young, thin, and beautiful. And while these statues haven’t escaped controversy (the statue in Denmark was smeared with the words “racist fish”) nobody ever complained about their size. But suddenly the new sculpture, which doesn’t show any more skin that the previous ones do, is too big, too fleshy, too voluptuous and yes, too curvy.

            But according to Whoop Goldberg, host of The View, “she’s not real.” Nothing to see here. And then there’s Vashti Harrison, author of the picture book BIG whose anti-fat theme lets girls know it’s okay to have big hearts and a big dreams, and yes, a big body. Love yourself. Every lovely inch.

            The take-away message for me is simple: Stop fat shaming women. We come in all sizes, shapes and colors. We are beautiful. Every one of us.

            Let’s also celebrate these brave students who went out on a limb not only to shatter an outdated oppressive image of beauty and sexuality but to memorialize expansiveness in all its largess.

            As always, Women Rock! Big and tall, small and petite. In ever color of the rainbow. From all walks of life. Monuments of the matriarchy have a new member to celebrate.

 

AMELIA EARHARDT (1897-1937)

Aviatrix, Author & Absolutely Amazing Woman

“Never interrupt someone doing something you said couldn’t be done.” AE

 

            A statue of Amelia Earhart was recently unveiled in the US Capital’s Sanctuary Hall where Amelia joins one hundred other statues (yet only 5% are women). Her seven-foot bronze statue, ten feet if you include the pedestal, sculptured by George and Mark Lundeen, will represent the state of Kansas. Her likeness, which depicts a beautiful and determined woman wearing a leather helmet, her signature bomber jacket and carrying goggles, was placed in the hall on the 85th anniversary of her disappearance.

            Amelia has an impressive resume, with many “firsts.” She was the first woman to fly across the Atlantic, the first woman to fly ‘solo’ across the Atlantic, the first woman to fly ‘solo’ from LA to Mexico City, the first woman to fly nonstop coast to coast, and the first woman to fly across the Red Sea to India. When she embarked on her “round the world” flight she would’ve been the first woman to do so.  Sadly her plane disappeared. She was only thirty-nine. How did she accomplish all this in such a short period of time? Some credit her with spunk, fortitude and a love of adventure while others claimed it was luck, good looks and publicity that took her from a small-time pilot to an aviation pop star, one with enough start power to capture the heart of America.

            When she was ten she believed that a little red plane spoke to her as it swooshed by. Was it Fly with me or You can do it too? But soon after, she was taking flying lessons and making short runs in the air. Unheard of for a woman, nothing short of miraculous for a girl. Then she captured the attention of George Putnam, a publicist who asked her if she’d like to be the first woman to fly ‘solo’ across the Atlantic. Without hesitation, she agreed. When he inquired if she’d like to be the first woman to fly ‘solo’ around the world, she was all in. She also said yes to Mr. Putnam when he asked her to marry him.

            In 1937, gassed up and ready to soar into history she took off into the great blue wander in a twin-engine Lockheed Electra. The concept of a “solo” flight can be misleading; Amelia wasn’t alone on the trip, she had her navigator Fred Noonan, with her. Midway across the pacific they were scheduled to make a short stop in the Howland Islands but somewhere over the open ocean the ground crew lost radio contact with her plane. Lots of speculation arose about her disappearance. Was it planned? Did she want to escape from the hectic life she’d created? Was her plane sabotaged? A few years later, some bones were discovered on nearby Nikumaroro Island that may have offered answers. But very soon the bones were dismissed as being her remains. It wasn’t until recently when new scientific methodology revealed that the fragments found were likely that of Amelia Earhart and her navigator. Case solved? (for more information see www.ameliaearhart.com)

 

            I comfort myself in knowing that she died/disappeared doing what she loved. Her legacy won’t be forgotten. She used her celebrity to start The Ninety-nines, a women’s aviation society. As an equal right’s advocate, Amelia believed that her “complex aviation skills proved that women could hold jobs that were mostly reserved for men; especially in careers that required intelligence, coordination, speed, coolness, and will power.” Amelia was much more than a pretty pilot with a publicist husband, she was also a social worker, a nurse, an author, entrepreneur, role model and women’s rights advocate. According to Nancy Pelosi, when you look at her statue, you “hear the sound of wings.”

            To me, that sound is an audible representation of bravery and freedom. It’s the sound of a woman smashing the class celling of oppressive misogyny, patriarchy and gender stereotyping. It’s the most beautiful sound in the whole world.

            While I applaud Amelia and her groundbreaking accomplishments,  we have miles to go before we catch up. I love the fact that her statue replaced one that belonged to a man, simply because he met the criteria of the day: male and pale. But we can do better. Women like Amelia need to dot the landscape with the bronze matriarchy. Statues of women need to be chiseled, placed on a pedestal and memorialized. Everywhere.

            Women rock. So do their statues and stories. Let’s get chiseling.

 

GERTRUDE STEIN (1874-1946)

“If you can’t say anything nice about someone- come sit next to me.”

 

            The first time I heard of Gertrude was after watching the 1960’s screwball comedy, “I love you, Alice B. Toklas.” I remember thinking that Gertrude Stein, with her avant-garde Buddha-like presence and quirky Alice had a story to tell; one that far beyond Peter Seller’s comedy and my own boring middle class suburban life.

            The statue installed in 1992 in Bryant park, NY, located next to the NY Public Library, is 225 lbs. of polished bronze and sits on a pedestal, displaying Ms. Stein in a seated position with the gravitas, given only to The Buddha himself. Apparently the Parisian sculpturer Jo Davidson had the same vision of Gertrude as I did- not only was she a trailblazing author, arts patron, literary salon facilitator but her gender-blending lifestyle allowed others to become comfortable in their own skin; a necessity artists must possess if they want to create true, unadulterated self-expression.

            A trust fund baby, Gertrude moved to Paris when she was 30. There she met Alice, her mustached unconventional life partner. As a fan of cubism and eclectic art, Gertrude purchased paintings of little-known artists and displayed their works on the walls of her Parisian apartment (Picasso, Matisse, Cezanne, Gaugin, Renoir Toulouse-Lautrec).  Soon the “almost famous” writers arrived (Sherwood Anderson, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Ezra Pound, T.S Eliot) and the Literary Salon was born. Gertrude’s apartment became a mecca where a community of writers networked, critiqued and inspired each other to greatness. Gertrude’s novel, “The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas,” is, and was, considered a literary superstar (she created what is now known as the unreliable narrator and gave the literary world a new way to tell their own story by redefining the scope of autobiographies.)

            Then there’s the relationship between Gertrude and Alice that single-handedly reconstructed gender by questioning what it meant to be male/female; feminine /masculine; even husband and wife. We’re still questioning these terms decade later but it was her bravery that sparked the conversation. Yes, she affirmed, we can say that out loud.

            Gertrude lived her life as a work of art. She was a collection of diversity; a patron of the arts, author, philanthropist, cultivator of culture and defender of human rights. She was larger than life. Her memory, chiseled in bronze and set upon a pedestal, sits for all to see. When you visit her statute, sit next to her for a while. Think. Then ask yourself, what can I do to make the world a better place? If you think you can accomplish one iota of what Gertrude did, then you’re sitting pretty. Otherwise, you have work to do, my statue-loving friend. Lots of work.

           

THE REPRODUCTIVE FREEDOM MONUMENT

 

Honoring courageous women who died from illegal, unsafe abortions Because they had no choice.” Inscription on a monument in Washington, DC

 

            In November 1989 feminist activists, including Eleanor Smeal and Kathy Spillar of The Feminist Majority, in conjunction with Ms. Magazine, erected a memorial of women who died from illegal and unsafe abortions. To my knowledge, this memorial has no official name and thus I’ve dubbed it “The Reproductive Freedom Monument.” Feel free to write your own title into the comment section.

            I’m not sure why it’s taken me so long to notice this important memorial. The plight of ensuring that women have access to safe abortions and the constitutional sanctity of Roe V. Wade has been like another appendage: One that I added the day I took a part-time job as a women’s health care counselor/abortion advocate at the Parents’ Aid Society/ Bill Baird Institute (seriously people, google Mr. Baird). For the scope of this blog, I’ve shied away from overt political pieces but this memorial gave me the shivers and a haunting so vibrant it spurred me into action. Again. But it’s not just the memorial that captured my advocacy eye. There’s the Vivian Campbell Fund of Women’s Health services; the July 9, 2018 Ms. Magazine article, “Daring to remember: The Stories of Women Who Died from Illegal and Unsafe Abortions and then the People’s World online story; “In Remembrance: Women Who Died from Illegal and Unsafe Abortions.” Please check out these amazing resources so you can step into the word of these brave women who made an agonizing decision and then paid for that decision with their life.

            Then there’s the photo of the memorial,  tagged (Carolmooredc / Wikimedia).  It’s a riveting reminder of back-alley days where women died, simply because they lacked the reproductive freedom or choice to continue a pregnancy. Keep in mind that pictures are short-term fixes whereas monuments are written in stone; chiseled into the foreseeable future; a tactile and visual warning that many more great women will perish if we don’t stop the current destructive movement of unpacking Roe V. Wade. Any more dismantling of the abortion bill will chain women into subserviency, maybe forever; voiceless, pregnant; stripped of their right to choose. It could be you-or someone you love. Women get pregnant. It’s a fact of life. Sometimes it’s wanted; sometimes it’s not. It should be up to the women to decide how she handles her body. Pure and simple.

            Sculp it in bronze. Chisel it in stone. Etch it in silver. Carve it in wood. Reproductive freedom for all!

            You can help. Start a campaign to erect this timeless memorial in your city or another one of you choosing. Gather influencers, entrepreneurs, Hollywood movers and shakers, fundraisers and agencies that heed the call of reproductive choice. Dot the landscape with the Reproductive Freedom Monument. Erect it in places where it’ll be seen by men, women, politicians. Do it now. Before it’s too late.

            What’s unseen is often unheard!

AMERICA’S YOUNGEST AMBASSADOR

Samantha Smith (1972-1985)

 

“God made the world for us to share and take care of. Not to fight over or have one group of people own it all.” S. Smith, 1982

 

            This is the second time I’ve gotten an idea about a statue from watching the CBS Sunday Morning Show with Jane Pauley (the first one was actually responsible for the birth of this blog) so I wanted to give this informative and highly entertaining show a shout out. If you’re not watching or streaming it,  you should be.

            Let’s meet our statue-of-the-month. Samantha Smith is, according to writer Elliot Holt, “One of them;”  a legendary girl like Joan of Arc, who despite her youth and short-lived years has made a lasting impression on our planet’s history. Her timeless message of hope and peace are just as important today as it was during the Cold War. Russia has often been called a “Sleeping Bear,” and Samantha at the tender age of ten, wasn’t afraid to get in the cave with it and confront nuclear devastation head on. And for that reason she deserves all that she was given: a bronze statue, stamps, books, and a designed school holiday.

            Here’s what you need to know about Samantha. In 1982, when she was in fifth grade and a student attending an elementary school in Manchester, Maine she wrote a letter to Yuri Andropov, the then leader of the Soviet Union, and asked him to think deeply before he embarked in war with the United States (https://alphahistory.com/coldwar/letters-samantha-smith-yuri-andropov-1983/. Bold on her part, but not unusual. Before the internet and social media, school kids wrote letters all the time to politicians, athletes, movie stars. But her letter differed in one respect; the leader of the Soviet Union responded. He not only wrote back but he invited Susan and her family to Russia on a mission of peace. And Susan with her engaging personality and good diplomatic instincts won over the Russian people. Samantha took her ambassador job very seriously and refused to be a political puppet on a string. Peace was her goal and comradery between two combative nations was her mission. A tall task for a girl without any formal negotiation training. But what Samantha lacked in resolution strategies, she more than made up for it with extras doses of tenacity.

            Then the naysayers arrived and claimed that she was being used by both sides. They said she was nothing more than pint-sized war propaganda machine. None of that deterred Samantha. She used her celebrity to write a book, become an actress and inspire children of all ages and cultures to speak out against nuclear war.  But sadly, at the age of thirteen, she and her father were killed in a plane crash. We can only wonder what she would’ve accomplished had she lived to adulthood.

            Here’s where you can pay tribute to such an amazing girl:

·       A bronze statue of Samantha Smith resides near the Maine Street Museum in Augusta

·       Visit a peace garden in Michigan along the St. Clair River

·       In Maine, the first Monday in June is designed as Samantha Smith Day

·       Her image is posted on a stamp

·       Read “America’s Youngest Ambassador: The Cold War Story of Samantha Smith’s Lasting Message of Peace” by Lena Nelson

·       Peruse “Journey to the Soviet Union” by Samantha Smith

·       Check out “You Are One of Them” by Elliot Holt

 

            Ms. Smith was able to accomplish all these things by age thirteen. Impressive. If she was born today she probably would’ve become an influencer and social media phenom. But even in the 1980’s she made quite a stir. Even though Samantha hadn’t yet turned eighteen, she still has a place among all our other monuments of the matriarchy. She rocks-and what a story she has to tell.

In

THE EMBRACE

The hug—shared between Martin Luther King Jr. and his wife, Coretta Scott King , after he won the 1964 Nobel Peace prize – memorialized in a statue

“I come to say to you this afternoon, however difficult the moment, however frustrating the hour, it will not be long, because truth crushed to earth will rise again. How long? Not long because no lie can live forever.” MLK

 

Women, if the soul of the nation is to be saved, I believe you must become its soul.” CSK

 

            I don’t usually write about a statue so soon after it’s been unveiled. But this particular statue with its hopeful message needs to be embraced now. The world needs a collective hug.

            Another note of importance. This is the second statue on this blog that features a man. The first one was “Embracing Peace,” another statue that not only uses the word embrace in the title but was also inspired by an iconic photo (‘the kiss’ between a soldier and a nurse on VJ Day). Sometimes I break my own rules. It doesn’t happen often, only if it serves the greater good. And since MLK spent his life in the pursuit of the greater good… I should rephrase.. lost his life fighting the good fight, I’ll make a spot for him. Anyone have a problem with that?

            “The Embrace,” a massive bronze statue which stands 20 feet high, 40 ft. wide and weighs 19 tons was sculptured by Hank Willis. It took him five years to complete. It’s much more than a statue, it’s a monumental work of art. Its origin is from a photo of a hug, which gives it an abstract contour, that allows for interpretation. If you look at it from a different vantage point, or if you use an alternate Point Of View, you might see something other than a hug. When I looked at it from a south-facing camera angel, I saw a heart. That’s the beauty of art. Here’s my interpretation: I saw the statue as a memorial for two people who advocate(d) for racial and economic justice. Their embrace was a tribute to their love. Watch as their weddings rings shine in unity. But I also see Martin, carrying the weight of his crusade on his shoulders. Then there’s Coretta, who also carries his legacy on her shoulders. To me, the hug is a symbol of holding fast, staying connected while leaning into the circle of inclusion, in a ‘we’re in this together’ message.

            The statue stands proud in Boston Commons, Massachusetts where Martin gave his “How Long? Not long” speech. The Kings have expressed their gratitude. They see the monument as a testament to their parents’ dual civil rights journey. What will you see? How will you interpret it?

            When an artist takes creative liberties and deviates from traditional models, some people raise up in arms. Don’t let them. This is a beautiful piece of art, a way to memorialize a brilliant man and his righteous wife. We need more monuments like this to dot our landscape with images of women, and yes, men too, that represent peace, equality, love, and unity. I’m all in favor of smashing the patriarchy, but this statue does just the opposite. It brings the woman into the fold as an equal partner and holds her tight.  

“we resolve not to conform to ye pernicious Custom of Drinking Tea until the Tea act is repealed.”

 

            People often ask me how I choose which statue to write about. I answer with “it’s the statue who chooses me.” I know that sounds odd but think of it like this: when the writer is ready, the statue will come.”

            I decided to write this blog after watching a CBS Sunday Morning edition that highlighted monuments of the matriarchy, or lack thereof. I was intrigued. Why were only 8% of all the statues in the United States of women? I was not the only one bothered by such a discrepancy but I felt compelled to explore this issue.

            Sometimes the statues speaks to me after reading a book, newspaper or magazine article about the woman (see Rachel Carson, Eleanor Roosevelt) or from a serendipitous visit (see Waving Girl, Marie Curie ). Other times I write about a woman I’ve long admired (see Joan of Arc, Ruth Bade Ginsberg). Then there are times, like that of Penelope Barker, that sprout from another article I’m working on.  

            I was visiting Edenton, NC for both pleasure and business when I happened upon Mrs. Barker. Edenton, a small southern town in coastal North Carolina, hosts an annual Candlelight Christmas Tour and I was covering the event for a local community magazine. It was there I discovered Penelope Barker, a loyal patriot of the American Revolution, (the welcome center is named after her) and her courageous show of opposition.  In October 1774, Mrs. Barker organized the first recoded political demonstration by women in America. All in all, Mrs. Barker rallied 50 women to sign a resolution boycotting British tea. The British East India Tea Company, which held a monopoly on tea, was placing a high tax on tea. Although Mrs. Barker’s efforts, along with the Boston Tea Party, were applauded in America, she was mocked in London (see political cartoon where the women are portrayed as having loose morals).

            However, Mrs. Barker’s brave act went mostly unnoticed until decades later a naval officer purchased the cartoon and decided to follow the trail of tea. Once he uncovered the story he was instrumental in erecting a statue to commemorate the event. Finally, in 1827, a statue of a teapot was commissioned. Mrs. Barker’s tea boycott is now known as the Edenton Tea  Party.

            Maybe one day a life-sized statue of Penelope Barker will be erected. But for now, we’ll have to make do with the Penelope Barker Welcome Center and a teapot. It is nice to know that women, like Penelope Barker, have been speaking out against injustice for eons.  We just need to make sure they’re given credit for their hard work.

            I hope you’ve been finding these glorious women in your everyday world. Maybe you’re even one of them. Let’s continue to dot the landscape with women who make the world a better place. A life-sized statue is one way but there are other options: puppets, smaller statues, objects, houses or museums or even performance art. Go out and find these wonderful women. If you come up empty, create a memorial or advocate for one. After all, women rock! So do their stories.

        When I first read about Mary Seacole in a New York Times Book Review article (“Nursing Grudges” by Linda Villarosa; October 2, 2022) she reminded me of a character in my unpublished historical fiction/magical realism manuscript, Waving Girl’s Last Stand (see novel except on this blog under “short stories”). Irvana is a fictional root priestess on one of the barrier islands outside of Savannah, Georgia where she found solace as a free woman after the civil war ended. In the manuscript, Irvana teaches real life Florence Martus, AKA Waving Girl about holistic healings using roots, herbs, flowers, potions, and other natural ingredients to treat injuries and illnesses. Oddly, Mary and Irvana would’ve practiced holistic medicine around the same time, yet miles apart. It was if Irvana had left Savannah, stepped off the page and then found her way to Jamaica, England and then Crimea (now part of Ukraine).

            Note to self. Don’t let anyone tell you your characters don’t seem real. Enough about me.

            Mary— born to a white father and a mother of mixed race –  was one of the few people of color to escape slavery in Jamaica in and around 1815. She watched her mother and other Jamaican women tend to the sick using holistic healing approaches. In 1820, Mary went to London, married and was soon widowed. But it was in 1851 during the endemic cholera outbreak of 1851 that killed about 200 people a day where Mary honed her skills. It was her combination of a good bedside manner, quick thinking, applied knowledge of herbs and a kind disposition that got Mary noticed.

            In 1854, her healing journey led her to the Crimean War where she acted like a field medic treating men on the battlefield. It was her heroic efforts that saved men that without her stalwart assistance would’ve died. It’s here, in Crimea, where she met Florence Nightingale. You see, Florence wasn’t the only nurse who rose to fame during the Crimean War. Although Mary was well-loved and respected, she was eclipsed by Florence, a white woman. Florence deserves her due, no doubt. She created the first pie chart and established the first makeshift mobile hospital. But the popular consensus now is that the world is big enough for two female heroes. Yet there are still those who disagree; now and then.

            Can you imagine how difficult it would’ve been for Mary, a woman of color, to make this kind of progress? When she first requested to volunteer as a nurse overseas, the government blocked her path at every turn. You could say they stonewalled her. But you can’t keep a strong woman down. She financed her trip to Crimea with her own money

            Mary was able to find a way to publish her memoir, “Wonderful Adventures of Mrs. Mary Seacole in Many Lands.” Publishing evades many people. Yet Mary was able to overcome numerous obstacles and become one of the first women of color to publish a memoir in the UK. With the publication of her book and word-of-mouth praise, she became something of a celebrity. Some would even call her a legend. Yet today when her statue was finally erected on the same grounds as Florence Nightingale, the historic hoopla between Florence and Mary continued. Florence’s fans objected to Mary’s statue, saying that she wasn’t even a trained nurse nor was she a Black woman. Gossip about her paternity erupted. Naysayers do what they’ll always do. But we won’t let them rain on our parade of monumental women.  

            If you want more information about Mary Seacole, check out, “In Search of Mary Seacole, The Making of a Black Icon and Humanitarian” by Helen Rappaport. You can also visit her eight-foot statue, unveiled in 2016 in Lambeth, England at St. Thomas Hospital. The statue created by Martin Jennings is a stunning work of art. Slung over her shoulder is a medical bag. Mary is sculped in motion, the same way she lived her life. You’ll notice that the background of the statue is a stone wall. It reflects that way she was stonewalled throughout her life. But she’s not deterred, not one bit. Mary walks right past the stone wall, as if it doesn’t even exist.

            Strong and determined woman prevail. Let’s continue to bond together as women, as humanitarians, and erect more monuments that highlight the wonderful achievements of women along the historic timeline.

            Check out a YouTube video: Mary Seacole statue unveiled.

 

Little Amal and Marie Curie

 

          When I started this blog I focused on statues of women who had been memorialized in bronze, marble, glass, silver, or any other long-lasting material. I concentrated my efforts on raising the awareness to the disparity between the number of men who’d been chiseled when compared with the amount of women. Not surprisingly men statues outnumbered women by more than an 8:1 ratio. But recently I came across two other ways women can be memorialized, at least temporarily, as in the case of Living Art or with a bit more longevity as seen with the use of animatronic or extreme puppetry.

 

ANIMATRONIC PUPPETRY

          One example of extreme puppetry is Little Amal. She’s a 12 ft. tall giant specimen (Think War Horse) that’s used in a performance art program called, “The Walk.” Amal, which means hope in Arabic, symbolizes a 10-year-old girl who travels alone across the world in hopes that she can be re-united with her mother. Amal is a mobile representation of immigration; asylum seekers, marginalized and displaced people, often as a result of genocide, poverty, war, and outright hatred. Mostly, Amal’s been met with warm embraces but since mankind is not always kind nor tolerant of differences, instances of outrage have erupted. Such a shame.

          I use Amal as an example of re-thinking bronze statues as the only way to highlight women. Certainly, a 12-foot puppet gets people talking. One advantage is she’s able to come to you. The disadvantage is that she’s homeless. She roves, moving from one temporary home to another. She recently spent three weeks in NYC and landed at the United Nations. If you’re lucky enough to be in the area when she visits, make every effort to see her. You won’t be disappointed. Her “people” are planning future events for 2022-23.

          Amal is eye-catching and has a look of sincerity that draws spectators to her. Visitors say they can “feel” her strife and spirit. Some say they’re compelled to touch her, hold her hand, walk with her, and tell her how brave she is. She inspires tears of resilience and hope. Statues can do all these things too but for some reason we back off from revealing our emotions to them.

          Maybe we shouldn’t. Next time you visit the statue of a woman of substance, put your arm around her and tell her how wonderful, wise and remarkable you think she is. I like to think she’s listening.

 

LIVING ART: HUMAN STATUES

          Examples of human statues can be found in cities or special events. But at first glance, you might walk right pass them, especially if you’re not paying close attention.  I saw Marie Curie in Edinburgh on the Royal Mile just outside Edinburgh Castle. From afar, she appeared to be a bronze statue and even as I got closer, she still appeared to be lifeless. But when a man put some money at her feet, she slightly altered her position. She stayed that way until another person offered money. But if nobody offered her cash, she stood absolutely still. I got close enough to see that her face, neck and hands were covered in professional theater makeup that allowed her to appear bronzed, with a light green patina. Her clothing was also of professional quality- a costume, dyed and stiffened to look like metal. Further down the road, we saw King Henry V111and then while in Stratford-Upon-Avon, we discovered Shakespeare, covered in what looked like white marble. For a pound, he’d perform a line of one of Shakespeare’s more famous plays and then when the line ended, he went back to his lifeless shape.

          These human statues boggled my mind. I wanted to know how someone could transform themself from a living, breathing human into a lifeless block of stone. I watched a You Tube video and saw a woman transform herself into a statue. Still, how could she suspend motion and stay so still for so long? How are the costumes made and what kind of make-up was used (google YouTube videos and you can find out for yourself). But this Living Art medium got me thinking. First question, the performance artist could’ve selected any famous woman to turn into a living word of art, what made her choose Mare Curie? Secondly, can you imagine using this art form for the greater good of the matriarchy?

          First question: Why did the performance artist pick Marie Currie?

          Was it because she already had a statue in Poland and that made it easier to copy? Or did she close Marie because she was awesome. That would be my reason. Face facts, Marie inhibited a great scientific mind, extreme bravery under potentially fatal conditions, and had keen intellect; the stuff legends are made of.

          Here are a few tidbits about Marie. She was born in Warsaw, Poland in 1867 but left for Paris in 1934 to continue her scientific studies. She met Pierre, her Professor of Physics, and married him. They worked together, mostly in laboratories, where they handled radioactive materials, until his death in 1906. She then resumed his position at the Sorbonne.

          Marie participated in research that led to the discovery of radioactivity, radium and polonium. In 1903, she along with her husband and Henri Becquerel, received the Nobel Prize in Physics. She received the Nobel Prize again in 1911 (alone this time) for Chemistry. She died in 1934 of aplastic pernicious anemia, a condition often found with longtime exposure to radiation. Her achievement in radioactive materials led to cancer treatments that have saved millions of lives.

          “Nothing in life is to feared. It’s only to be understood.” Marie Curie

 

          Second question: Can you imagine using this art form for the greater good of the matriarchy?

          I can. Imagine all the exhibits and celebrations of women, alive and long-passed but still relevant, that could take place throughout the United States. As we speak there’s a campaign to create and erect a Women’s Suffragette Memorial on the National Mall. In the meantime, there could be a Living Art display of Susan B. Anthony, Madam C.J. Walker, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Sojourner Truth, Harriet Stanton Blatch, Ida Wells and Alice Paul adorning the mall. Can you imagine the human statues, in their bronze finest, giving speeches and bringing the memorable women to life. I can almost hear the wonderful conversations they could have with each other.  

          To steal and then paraphrase a line from Field of Dreams, “if you build it, she will come.” Yes, we need plenty more monuments of the matriarchy to dot the landscape with women of substance, but for the short term, we could fill in the gap with animatronic puppets or Living Art.

          “If you build it. She will come.”

           We’re women, we can make this happen.