Thursday, July 2, 2009

My CNY Public Art: Dedication of Restored Kirkpatrick Monument (Lemoyne Fountain) at Washington Square

Dedication of Restored Kirkpatrick Monument (Lemoyne Fountain) at Washington Square
by Samuel D. Gruber

(all photos by Samuel D. Gruber)

Yesterday evening I had the pleasure of attending a ceremony to re-dedicate the Kirkpatrick Monument in Washington Square, on Syracuse's Northside. The monument is also known as the LeMoyne Fountain, but the original water element, which was divided to serve people and horses, has not been replaced in the restoration.

Scenes from the Re-dedication of the Kirkpatrick Monument, July 2, 2009. All photos: Samuel D. Gruber

The monument, designed by husband and wife team of Harvey Wiley Corbett (1871-1954) and Gail Sherman Corbett (1872-1951), was first installed 101 years ago. It was cast by the Gorham Foundry of Providence, Rhode Island. The restoration has been carried out by Sharon BuMann, herself a local sculptor of note, the creator of the Jerry Rescue Monument at Clinton Square.

The monument speaks as a work of art, but it also remains - and has been re-empowered - as a "talking statue," in the tradition of Rome's Pasquino. But the characters on the Kirkpatrick Monument say different things - depending on who is interpreting their story.

Gail Sherman Corbett, the sculptor of the monument, was a native of Syracuse, who grew up (according to columnist Dick Case) at 1312 Park St. Her parents were Frederick Coe and Emma Jane (Ostrander) Sherman. She studied sculpture with Augustus Saint-Gaudens at the Art Students League in New York later studied at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts in Paris (1898-99), where her painting was influenced by the Impressionists. She married Harvey Wiley Corbett in 1905 and the two lived in New York, where they were well known and highly successful in the arts world.

Gail was also a painter and ceramicist, and exhibited at the Art Institute of Chicago, the National Academy of Design, the National Association Women Artists-Exhibit, the National Sculpture Society, the Panama Pacific Exhibition of 1915 (where she exhibited a model of the Kirkpatrick monument as well as a sundial), and the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts.

The Corbetts had previously designed the Hamilton White Memorial in Fayette Park (now Firefighters Park), dedicated in 1905. That monument, also restored by Sharon BuMann, is one of Syracuse's finest pieces of public art. At the time of their work in Syracuse they were still young artists in their 30s, just getting established and building reputations.

The Corbetts were active in the artistic education of women, and in 1908 - the same year as the creation of the Kirkpatrick Monument, Harvey Corbett designed the for Ellen Dunlap Hopkins New York School of Applied Arts for Women a remarkable building (at 30th and Lexington in New York), where he taught. The striking building which recalls classical structures but is imbued with a strong modernist aesthetic, was one of Corbett's first independent commissions, and it brought him criticism from traditionalists, but praise from some quarters. Significantly, he designed a new studio for his wife in their Chelsea house about the same time. In both school and studio he inserted casts of the Parthenon frieze. Perhaps he thought that Athena, the wise virgin goddess to whom the frieze is dedicated was a good inspiration for women in the arts. Harvey Corbett went on to be one of the world's leading designers of skyscrapers and helped define the setback skyscraper style of the 1920s. He worked with Raymond Hood on Rockefeller Center, and Wallace Harrison was his student and got his start in Corbett's firm.

Much less is known of Gail Sherman Corbett's career. Like many women of her generation, her professional opportunities were limited. She is known to have contributed sculpture to some of her husband's other projects, such as the City Hall in Springfield, Massachusetts (for which she sculpted the main door). But the entire arc of her career needs to be researched.

The restored Kirkpatrick monument will now be among her best known works - until more are identified. The monument consists of a tall bronze drum set upon a granite base. The entire surface of the drum is sculpted in high relief. There a lengthy inscription, and then as series of interacting figures representing the purported events of August 16, 1654, when the local Onondaga people introduced Jesuit Missionary Pere Simon LeMoyne to the local salt spring. The relief depicts LeMoyne, his companion Jean Baptiste, the Iroquois leader Garakontie, and an unnamed Onondaga man and woman.

The salt industry later became a major cause of the establishment and expansion of the the village of Salina, and later the city of Syracuse. This scene was chosen for the monument as a fitting memorial to Dr. William Kirkpatrick, who had been superintendent fo the Syracuse Salt Works, by his son, also William Kirkpatrick. At the time of its erection, representatives of the Onondaga Nation were not invited to participate in the ceremony. The monument and its scene was largely understood as a lesson of the successful replacement of Indian culture with American Christianity. Still, Kirkpatrick left funds in his will for two other monuments in tribute to the Onondaga, neither extant. So apparently Kirkpatrick did see the connection between the Onondaga of the past of the city's (then) prosperity.

In a brochure produced by the Onondaga Nation "to truly honor the Onondaga Nation by grounding the history depicted on the Washington Square Park Monument in the broader history of the time" it is written that "If it is accepted that Father LeMoyne discovered the salt springs, one might say that he is, in an historical sense, responsible as the initiator of the whole chain of events for the future exploitation and usurpation of the Onondaga land." The brochure's authors also write that "The mansions of the salt barons around the park, The City of Syracuse and the Erie Canal were all built from the profits from Onondaga Lake's salt. In the 1890s, the availability of salt attracted Solvay Process. Its industrial plants along Onondaga lake are responsible for the toxic pollution of the Lake that still exists today."

At yesterday's celebration, however, the talk was more about cultural cooperation and environmentalism, and Oren Lyons, the Faithkeeper of the Turtle Clan of the Onondaga Nation, was a featured speaker.

Syracuse, NY. Monument to Hamilton White in Fayette Park (now Firefighters Park).
Gail Sherman Corbett, sculptor and Harvey Wiley Corbett, architect, 1905.
Photo: Samuel D. Gruber 2008.