SalemNews.com, Salem, MA

July 26, 2010

Essex County Chronicles: Region has plenty of fine examples of sculptors' art

Essex County Chronicles
Jim McAllister

Leonard Craske's "Man at the Wheel" statue sits silently on Gloucester Harbor, a memorial to the thousands of Cape Ann men who "went down to the sea in ships."

The bronze likeness of a fishermen is not only one of the region's most revered icons, but also one its most renowned pieces of sculpture.

But there are many other statues on the North Shore that are worthy of our attention, including Bela Lyon Pratt's magnificent bronze rendering of Nathaniel Hawthorne in the author's native Salem.

Pratt also sculpted the famous statues of Edward Everett Hale in the Boston Public Garden and that of Hale's ancestor, Nathan Hale, in New Haven, Connecticut.

A driving force behind the move to bring Pratt's Hawthorne statue was the famous Salem painter, Frank W. Benson, who taught with the sculptor at the School of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. Both men also summered on North Haven Island in Maine.

Half the $20,000 needed to acquire the Hawthorne statue and move it to Salem from its original location at the front entrance of the Museum of Fine Arts was raised with the help of the crackerjack fundraisers who financed the Hawthorne Hotel.

The bronzed, contemplative likeness of the author was presented to the city on Dec. 23, 1925 and unveiled by his great-granddaughter, Rosamond Mikkelsen.

Less than 100 yards away stands a majestic statue of Salem founder Roger Conant, commissioned by the Conant Family Association and completed in 1913. The sculptor was the renowned Henry H. Kitson, who is better known for his Minuteman (Capt. John Parker) statue on Lexington Green and his "Pilgrim Maiden" statue in Plymouth.

Kitson's former sculptress spouse, Theo Alice Ruggles, the first woman ever admitted to the National Sculpture Society and creator of the Thaddeus Kosciuzko statue in the Boston Public Garden, is also represented on the North Shore. But her "Volunteer" Civil War statue in Newburyport's Atkinson Common is overshadowed by a bronzed depiction of abolitionist William Lloyd Garrison sculpted by the legendary Daniel Chester French and sited in that city's Brown Square.

One of the nation's premier figure sculptors, French is best known for his seated Abraham Lincoln at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C.; and, locally, his Minuteman statue at the North Bridge in Concord and the John Harvard monument in Harvard Yard.

The Garrison statue was finally dedicated on July 4, 1893, after a series of what the New York Times called "delays and embarrassments." The paper noted the first choice to execute the nine-foot bronze piece proved to be "unfortunate," and that it was only through the Garrison family's intervention that the widely-respected French was brought on board as a replacement.

Amazingly, no statue exists on the North Shore of Garrison's fellow abolitionist, John Greenleaf Whittier, who spent almost his entire life in Essex County and achieved lasting national fame with the publication of his epic poem, "Snowbound," in 1866. But there is a bronzed memorial to the Haverhill native in the city to which he lent his name — Whittier, Calif.

Ironically, a statue of the poet's less-famous relative, William Penn Hussey, can be seen today at the intersection of Water and Pulaski streets in Danvers.

This enigmatic engineer and entrepreneur settled in Danvers after earning fame and fortune in Nova Scotia, and built a lovely mansion known as Riverbank overlooking the Water River.

In 1902, Hussey was chosen chief marshal for the Danvers town celebration parade. The thrill of leading a contingent of 1,000 uniformed men while on horseback was one he would never forget. After his death, Hussey's son commissioned the noted sculpture George Thomas Brewster to commemorate his father's finest hour.

The region's most famous equestrian statue is found outside the VFW Hall in Gloucester. Long-time Annisquam summer resident Anna Hyatt Huntington's original Joan of Arc statue won an honorable-mention prize in the 1910 Paris Salon and led to a commission to create another of the French heroine for New York City. Her niece posed as Joan of Arc, with a Gloucester fire horse for her steed.

The armor Huntington found at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York.

Four other castings of this statue were subsequently made and are sited in Gloucester, Quebec, San Francisco, and Bois, France.

Just a few miles south of Gloucester, in Manchester-by-the-Sea Town Hall, is one of the region's most "controversial" statues. When the noted sculptor George Aarons presented his interpretation of Masconomo, the great sagamore of the Agawam tribe, to the committee overseeing the monument project in 1938, it was roundly condemned by its members. Aarons then abandoned the work and moved on to other things.

More than four decades later, local author-journalist Herb Kenney led a drive to have the matter revisited.

This time around, the artist's work was warmly received, and visitors today can see a bronze casting of Aaron's original 26-inch statue at Town Hall.

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Jim McAllister of Salem writes a weekly column on the history of the North Shore. Contact him at culturecorner@gmail.com.