Sculptures Around City Help Bring High Ideas Down to Earth

Culture and Education
Published September 11, 1997

Sculptures Around City Help Bring High Ideas Down to Earth

| Published September 11, 1997

'Planting the Standard of Democracy, ' or the Victory Monument, was unveiled in December of 1923. Sculptor Charles Henry Niehaus considered it his best work. It stands at the northern end of Lincoln Park. The Newark Public Library

What do an 11-foot head of a Greek goddess, four nude Roman warriors and the bust of an assassinated U.S. president have in common? Well, they are examples of downtown Newark sculptures in our city parks and plazas.

They represent an abstract concept of law and justice, they recognize heroic war service of city residents, and they tender respect for a martyred U.S. president. These symbols in bronze, granite and cement are also important to the thousands of people daily passing by because they are beautiful, they are symbolic and they make the city, our city, just a little nicer place in which to live, work and visit.

The 1991 inscription at the base of Newark's statute of Themis, the Greek goddess of justice, by U.S. poet laureate Mark Strand reads: When justice does its public part, It educates the human heart; The erring human heart in turn must do its private part and learn. Sculptor Diana Moore's idea for the colossal head came during her visit to the Capitoline Museum in Rome, where a 5-foot marble head of Emperor Constantine, one part of a 37-foot-high body, was on display. Indeed, the piece was one of antiquity's wonders. Today, the trunk of the emperor has disappeared and the empire has vanished. Another influence that may have had an effect on Moore — who lived in Norfolk, Va., and Hoboken and attended Northern Illinois University and the University of Iowa – -was Shelley's poem 'Ozymandias' and its chilling words: 'Half sunk, a shattered vestige lies, whose frown and wrinkled lip, and sneer of cold command.' Selected to create the work by the Government Services Administration from 150 competitors, Moore began working on a model in a former Newburgh, N.Y., gymnasium that had a 20-foot ceiling by fabricating a small head of clay one-third the size of the final work. First, she made a cage of steel rods and covered them with wire mesh, using a device called an Egyptian measuring frame to make it larger. Then she coated the cage with 4 to 8 inches of clay. By that time, the sculpture weighed an amazing 5 tons. Next, Moore covered the clay base with lubricant and fiberglass and cast a rubber mold, which later was lifted for the final pouring of the concrete. Concrete — not bronze, marble or granite — was used for the final finish because it was considered a 20th-century product and because it was felt that it best depicts the many-faceted elements of our multicultural society. The final phases of the work took place in a Brooklyn warehouse. The two cornucopias, or fruit baskets, that flank Themis are irregular. One stands upright; the other is on its side with its contents flowing out. The central sculpture has no base or plinth to bring the statue closer to the observer.

The Victory Monument

Known also as 'Planting the Standard of Democracy, ' the Victory Monument was unveiled Dec. 9, 1923. It stands at the northern tip of Lincoln Park at Broad Street, composed of four heroic bronze figures raising a flag. One figure holds the flag about to be unfurled, two men hold the flagpole and a fourth secures the pole at the base. The 80-foot standard is topped by an eagle that serves as a weather vane and looks as if it is about ready to spring into flight. Symbolic Roman warrior figures rise to a height of 20 feet above the sidewalk, honoring the fighting men of World War I. Interestingly enough, World War I also is a theme of the Military Park sculpture. While the Victory grouping portrays nude Roman warriors, the fighting figures of the Wars of America Statue in Military Park are in contemporary garb. Ulysses Dietz of the Newark Museum explains the difference in treatment as simply a matter of taste. Borglum's Wars of America reflects realism, while Charles Henry Niehaus' Victory portrays classicism. The base on which the Victory Monument stands is octagonal and bears low reliefs representing fraternity, patriotism, sacrifice, and law and order. Niehaus was born in Cincinnati in 1885, studied at Munich Academy and London's Royal Academy and briefly worked in Rome. He settled in New York, was associated with the famous Salmagundi Club and became known for his classical bronzes. He considered the Victory Monument his best work.

The 1923 unveiling was highlighted by a parade along Broad Street. An estimated 70,000 participated in or watched the event or attended the ceremonies at the base of the statue. Inclement weather had no effect on blind Newark serviceman Edward Wegner, the Gold Star Mothers or the Newark War Mothers who participated in the unveiling and thanksgiving program, which saluted 'the heroic deeds of Newarkers who had served in the great struggle.' As the flag went up the new flagpole for the first time, the Newark Music Festival Chorus sang the national anthem and the guns of the 112th Field Artillery boomed out a 21-gun salute. 'The buildings and ground rocked as the guns belched forth their flame and smoke,' as a grateful Newark said thanks to its wartime heroes, one observer wrote of the occasion. A highlight of the afternoon was the recognition and presentation of Newark wartime champions. Joining Frank J. Bart, private, Company 3, 9th Infantry, 2nd Division, of 262 Washington St., who had recently received the Congressional Medal of Honor, were 39 other men who had received the Distinguished Service Cross. They came from every corner of the city and served in a variety of posts including the infantry, engineers, Marine Corps, field artillery, coast artillery corps, machine gun battalion, sanitation train, aero squadron and field signal battalion. Hard work, careful planning and genuine love went into making the event truly memorable. While thankful citizens raised money for the statue through public subscription, others like William Brennan, Thomas Lynch Raymond, Louis V. Aronson and Christian W. Feigenspan used their personal talents to ensure the project's success.

The John F. Kennedy bust

November 1965 marked the unveiling of the Kennedy bust in the lower end of Military Park, honoring one of America's favorite presidents. Former Rep. Joseph Minish chaired the Memorial Fund Committee of Essex that raised the money for the project. Public and parochial schoolchildren from all over the county contributed their nickels and dimes to make it a reality. The original price of $60,000 was lowered by the sculptor by $10,000 upon learning that the money came chiefly from the county's children. World-renowned sculptor Jacques Lipchitz – frequently referred to as one of the three living art patriarchs of the 20th century, along with Picasso and Chagall – was secured to create the bust. He did similar works for Harvard and for a memorial at Runnymede in England. Interestingly, Lipchitz considered his Newark piece his favorite. George J. Haney, who headed the sculptor selection committee, was extremely proud of the committee's choice when the final work was unveiled Nov. 11, 1965. The actual bust was to be a 5-foot bronze resting on a 13-foot pedestal of balfour pink granite quarried from Barre, Vt. Work was begun in Lipchitz's Hastings-on-Hudson studio, and the bronze casting was completed in Florence, Italy. The sculptor designed the pedestal and Bernard Grad of Frank Grad and Sons put it onto blueprint for him. Construction was supervised by the Lincoln Monument Co. of Montclair. Originally the unveiling was set for October 1965, but was postponed because of a flaw in the granite. On Nov. 8, late in the afternoon, Lipchitz inspected the casting for the first time. A small crowd gathered around the work as its creator worked around the city's newest piece of sculpture. 'Most of the audience stood in respectful silence, gazing upward at the figure of their late president in a 5-foot-high proportion, ' a reporter wrote. Indeed, another important statue had joined Newark's inventory of artworks. As Lipchitz worked on the bust, he was asked what he thought of the assignment. He responded, 'I was mostly very sad when I was working on such a young man. I was very affected. Kennedy was a figure who is inspiring and tragic at the same time.' Of the many quotations considered for inclusion on the pedestal, the one finally selected reads: 'Let every nation know, whether it wishes us well or ill, that we shall pay any price, bear any burden, meet any hardship, support any friend, oppose any foe in order to assure the survival and the success of liberty. This much we pledge – and more.' Today, Kennedy stands at the south end of Military Park between the two Spanish-American War cannon and slightly behind the recently restored flagpole, which has stood in that position since George Washington, Thomas Paine and Lord Cornwallis marched in the streets of Newark. While the 11-foot head of Themis represents the oldest imagery of Newark sculpture, the effigy of Kennedy is one of the city's newest.