On Monday I learned of a cause taken up by the remarkable New York City Girl Scouts. They described it quite eloquently on Channel 7 Eyewitness News. Happily, I also know that they have a formidable champion for their cause that they may not be aware of. But the fact is that she is an heroic figure mounted on a horse of equally formidable proportions and can be found only a short bus ride away from Central Park, which the Girls Scouts have identified as the battleground of their campaign.
The Scouts want a female Statue to be added to the crown jewel of New York’s parks system whom they will be able to see as a more realistic role model than the fictional women/girls Alice in Wonderland, Mother Goose and Juliet Capulet (embraced by the young Romeo Montague.)
Several years ago I was introduced to the monumental figure of Joan of Arc who rides into battle from Riverside Drive at 93rd Street. It took author/film maker Mary Pat Kelly to open my eyes to the woman who reigned there for more than a century, since her 1915 dedication, as the first and at first the only non-fictional female memorialized on a Manhattan public space. With her keen sense of the convergence of real individuals in the popular culture of other times and places, Mary Pat has encouraged her friends to explore the rich connections they can find in the urban villages that make up our city.
That instinct led to her pointing out that May is a rather perfect time to celebrate the mighty Joan, who was burned at the stake in May of 1430 and went on to become the patroness of France credited with leading the nation’s troops to victory in the siege of Orleans. My most recent visit to the Equestrian Saint happened last May 30 just a century and one year after she came to Riverside Drive on the day of her dedication. I was charmed to see that several bouquets of flowers had been left at her feet by earlier visitors.
I could not help but hope that they also honored the eminent artist and art patron Anna Vaughn Hyatt Huntington (1876–1973) who sculpted the statue and thereby crushed the stereotypic view that such a monumental work could never be achieved by a woman.
The crowd that gathered to celebrate the unveiling of her statue in the throes of a World War included political dignitaries from at least two continents and even Mrs. Thomas Alva Edison as one of those who pulled the cord to unveil that stunning 20-foot sculpture. The informative account of the Joan of Arc Memorial on the NYC Parks website includes the detail that portions of stones from the Tower of Rouen where Joan was imprisoned are embedded in the base created for the statue by John Van Pelt.
It is rich in details of how Hyatt Huntington tapped into conventional and unconventional sources to achieve the awesome work: a horse at work for her local Massachusetts fire department, armors from the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s collections and her own young female relative to serve as a model of the equally young soldier-saint.
After turning back the siege of Orleans the young Joan was ultimately captured and sold to the enemies of the King whose restoration she was inspired to seek; tried and condemned to be burned at the stake just a few months after her 20th birthday. Her story has been a favorite of playwrights, artists and authors.
But back to our Girl Scouts and their campaign to see a non-fictional female become the subject for an important statue in Central Park. Who better to adopt as their patroness in this enterprise than a young girl who lived on this earth for less than two decades and in that time dared to become a heroine, depicted in a work of art so rightly described as “larger than life size.” Or for that matter, who better as a joint inspiration than a sculptor who overcame skepticism that she was up to the task and was subsequently commissioned to fashion the statue of Cuban patriot Jose Marti, the whose statue stands near the southwestern entrance to Central Park.
And so, advice to all the dreamers: To Horse!
Opening photo: Bigstock by Shutterstock
All other photos courtesy of NYC Parks/Art & Antiquities; last photo by: Dorothy Cheng, NYC Parks
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