This statue is under construction
Tag: Statues of women
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.
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.
Voices From the Garden
Seven statues of women who’ve shaped the Commonwealth of Virginia have been unveiled in October 2109 in Capital Square, Richmond, VA. There are also names of 230 other women of influence etched along the walls of the exhibit. Five more statues are in the works.
This has been an on-going project that focused on collectively recognizing the voices of women who’ve not been given their due in mainstream America. These women, from the past 400 years, have been for the most part, overlooked. While many have been given a line or two in a few history books, it’s not enough. We need to amplify their voice. From all walks of life these are extraordinary women who’ve risen above stereotypes, prejudices, injustice, poverty, race and sexual discrimination, adversity and apathy to break barriers and smash glass ceilings. Their accomplishments are numerous, vast and impressive.
The women exhibited haven’t been placed on a pedestal, riding a horse, or carrying a weapon; this way visitors can look them in the eye. Take a good look. These are the women whose shoulders we’ve been standing on for four hundred years. Listen to their narratives. It’s time to bring real women to the table. And what an amazing table it is.
- Ann Burras Laydon (1595-?). Jamestown colonist. Records indicate she left England as an unmarried woman and arrived in Jamestown in 1608. She soon married and bore four daughters. Her oldest daughter was the first recoded child to be born of English parents. Ann was a homesteader and early member of what is now considered to be the first American settlement. She survived an Indian attack, when survival rates were low.
- Cockacoeske (1656-1686): Pamunkey Chieftain. Cocoacoeske was a Native American woman who was called “Queen” by the settlers when her husband died. She’s best known for signing the Articles of Peace, also referred to as the Treaty of Middle Plantation in 1677. She maintained a diplomatic relationship with other tribes, a feat which was difficult for most other tribal leaders to accomplish.
- Mary Draper Ingles (1732-1815): Frontierswoman. Mary was another early settler, who after surviving a capture by the Shawnee, escaped, and then found safe passage 600 miles home She went on to create Ingles Ferry with her husband. Mary was the subject of books, plays and movies (see the “Long Way Home” and “The Captives: Follow the River”).
- Elizabeth Keckley (1818-1907): Seamstress. Elizabeth was born a free black woman to parents who had once been enslaved. She was a seamstress as well as an author. In 1868 she wrote, “Behind the Scenes or 30 Years a Slave” also known as “From Slavery to the White House.” You see, Elizabeth became Mary Todd Lincoln’s dressmaker and confidant. Her memoir was considered scandalous at that time.
- Laura Copenhaver (1868-1949). Textile entrepreneur. The daughter of a minister and the wife of a school administrator, Laura found her niche in writing, civic work and cooperative marketing. She started a business in her house where woman made hand-made blankets. Soon the demand for her product was so high she had to move into a factory. Rosemont, a textile industry, was then born, which is still in operation today (mainly bed linens).
- Virginia Randolph (1874-1958): Educator. Virginia was an African American woman who was born to previously enslaved parents in Richmond, VA. She was considered to be a pioneer in the area of industrial arts. Virginia believed that students learned better by doing. She taught classes like woodworking, sewing, gardening, and home design. She was the recipient of an award that allowed black rural schools to include the manual arts in their curriculum.
- Adele Clark (1882-1983): Suffragette. Adele was a founding member of the Equal Suffrage League of Virginia as well as an artist and art advocate. She fought to have the Nineteenth Amendment ratified, which didn’t happen in Virginia until 1957. Nonetheless, she worked tirelessly for women’s rights until the day she died. As an artist, her work has graced showrooms and private residences. Her lovely painting, “Sledding” reminds me of the lithographs found in the Currie & Ives printmakers book, one of childhood favorites.
Collectively, these women rock. I applaud the state of Virginia for stepping up to the plate and creating such a visual display of the accomplishments of women. Day by day, year in and year out, across decades, and centuries, these women worked to make their community a better place to live, often without notice or reward. In doing so, they made the state fuller and richer. The country benefited too. They are true monuments of the matriarchy. But these woman are no different than most of us reading this site. Just like the statues, we come from all walks of life and bring a different set of skill sets. But if we put our collective heads together, we can build a better world. One statue at a time.
I don’t think of all the misery but of the beauty that still remains.” A. Frank
Anne Frank’s diary is a world treasure. Despite being only thirteen-years old when she took pen to paper, her words resonate with people of all ages, in all parts of the universe. She deserves to be memorialized in stone and placed on a pedestal. While she’s honored in many historic landmarks, this blog will focus on two of the more popular.
Erected in Founder’s Park Plaza at the National WW11 Museum in New Orleans sits a life-sized statue of Anne. Sculpted by Studio EIS, Anne is depicted holding her diary to her chest with both hands. A direct quote from her diary is nearby, “Someday this terrible way will be over. Surely the time will come when we are people again, and not just Jews.”
Imagine being in Anne’s shoes. She was a girl, on the brink of adolescence, when suddenly she’s forced to hide in two small rooms, hidden behind a bookcase, and shut off from the life she once knew. No television, no communication with the outside world, no music. Just a few books and a measly stack of paper and pencils, and the cramped company of seven other people, some of whom she didn’t get along with, even in the best of times. But Anne had hutzpah and made the most of it -by looking out onto a horse-chestnut tree – and by starting a diary, which she called a “strange experience.” She wrote even though she was sure “no one will ever be interested in the musings of a thirteen-year-old-girl.” But that didn’t stop her moxie from pouring out onto the page. “Oh, well. It doesn’t matter. I feel like writing.” I’m glad she felt propelled to write in a diary. Otherwise we never would’ve known about this brave girl. Bravery gets noticed. In Anne’s case, her strength of character was memorialized in bronze, which allowed her to take her place among the other impressive monuments of the matriarchy.
Still, being the face of humanity has its downsides. A monument of Anne known as the Idaho Anne Frank Human Rights Memorial, that resides at the Wassmuth Rights Center, was defaced in Dec. 2020 with swastikas and the harrowing words “We are everywhere.” Also tarnished was the freedom spiral. Unfortunately, this wasn’t the first time the complex was branded with graffiti of Anti-Semitic messages and racial slurs. A question asked by the media was, “Is this what we’re becoming?”
When Anne was alive she’d seen more trouble than most of us. Did she need to be victimized, even in death? After her capture by the Gestapo, she spent twenty months in captivity, only to be turned into the authorities by an anonymous informant, who is said to have been an employee of her father’s. Sadly, Anne didn’t last long at Auschwitz. She died of starvation and dehydration, weeks before the concentration camp was liberated. Her diary was found in the annex by a family friend. I’m not sure if you know this but the authenticity of the diary was questioned. Surely, the naysayers speculated, an older, more erudite person wrote it. I, for one, believe it’s the real deal. When faced with death, I bet our pens are freed from the confines of the page and we speak the truth. Verse after verse is wrangled free and without a censor and judge, the words touch detach themselves from the core our souls. As Anne said, “I continue to sit with the open book in my hand and wonder why I was filled with so much anger and hate that I had to confide it all to you.”
But Anne lives on, in her journals and statues How will you live on? Have you accomplished anything that is statue worthy? I know I haven’t, at least not yet. But I’m not going to give up on myself.
Rise up ladies. Do something great. Be heard. Write your hearts out. The world needs more women of courage. I imagine a future where there are millions of brave women dotting our landscape. Now that’s a beautiful sight.