Tuesday, May 31, 2011
Friday, May 6, 2011
I’ve asked her to give a brief summary about the statuary that appears on the cover of one of her books. Even if you live far from New York, as I do, I found the story fascinating. Here it is, in Stefanie’s own words.
One such landmark is the Angel of the Waters, who appears both on the cover of my first book and as well as in its chapters. In cover artist David Rotstein’s creation, she is a dark figure bathed in light, yet clothed in ice; reaching out, yet remaining aloof as cold snow swirls around her. The UK edition kept her as their cover figure, but accentuated her darkness as well as the heavy snow surrounding her.
In real life, she was one of the few sculptures commissioned specifically for Central Park. Her creator, the sculptor Emma Stebbins, was the first woman to be charged with creating a major work of art in New York City. Stebbins wanted to celebrate not only Central Park, but also the new Croton Aqueduct that fed the fountain and gave New York City its first dependable source of clean drinking water. So Stebbins’s Angel, who presides over Bethesda Terrace, carries a lily (the symbol of purity) in one hand and reaches out with the other to bless the water of the lake (which represents all New York’s fresh water supply). Stebbins may have been inspired, too, by a biblical passage about the healing powers of the pool of Bethesda in Jerusalem. As Sara Cedar Miller has suggested in Central Park, An American Masterpiece, this aspect of the Angel perhaps came from the sculptor’s personal life. Stebbins’ companion, the famous actress Charlotte Cushman, battled breast cancer until her death – and sometimes sought water treatments during her illness.
Yet the Angel of the Waters was reviled when she was first unveiled in Central Park on June 1, 1873. The New York Times stated: “All had expected something great, something of angelic power and beauty.” Instead, the crowd’s disappointment was palpable. According to the Times, the angel looked like nothing more than a “servant girl” from the rear, and a “girl jumping over stepping stones” from the front. Her head was judged to appear male, but the rest of her body was a mix of male and female parts. And her wings were “unconnected” to her body, put on like a “ballet costume.” In short, “the revulsion of feeling was painful.”