Lorenzo Ghiglieri: Bex Eagle

Guest Blogger:  Mari

In Pershing Park, located at the

Bex Eagle

Lorenzo Ghiglieri. Bex Eagle. 1980. Bronze. 14th & Penn. Ave. NW.

intersection of 14th Street and Pennsylvania Avenue, NW, I found the sculpture of a large eagle landing on the world. The physically imposing piece interested me because unlike many of the other sculptures I saw that day it was full of movement and emotion.

From later research I learned that the bronze sculpture is meant to symbolize freedom and was created by Lorenzo Ghiglieri in 1980 and dedicated in 1982. A gift from the National Wildlife Federation and Brian Bex of the American Communications Network to President Ronald Reagan, it was produced to commemorate the centennial anniversary of the eagle becoming America’s official symbol. The inscription on the Dakota mahogany granite base, matching the material of the nearby General John J. Pershing memorial, exemplifies the importance of freedom of mind and soul claiming that “individuality is the basis of every value” and that “freedom is the right to one’s soul.”

Ghiglieri portrays the eagle in flight, mouth open in a screech, with talons thrusting forward to grab and settle on the globe. To me, the Bex Eagle is a clear piece of Cold War propaganda designed to inspire pride in America’s friends and fear in her foes. The pose appears to assert American dominance in the Cold War world of the 1980’s. The eagle’s size, combined with its movement, sends a daunting message of America’s self determined role as a world liberator. Ghiglieri conveys this role and America’s sense of superiority by depicting the eagle about to grasp the globe; the piece states that America’s power allows her to control the world around her and bend it to her will. Not only does the physicality of the work create a sense of fluid movement, but it also successfully communicates American authority.

To balance the intimidation of America’s symbol, the inscription below the Bex Eagle assures viewers that while America does have tremendous power, it will only ever be used to spread individual freedom and give each human the right to possess their own soul. In the Cold War, America spoke softly and diplomatically, but wielded a big stick in the form of its military and wealth. This propaganda piece perfectly embodies how America viewed itself in this turbulent time.

James Earle Fraser: John Ericsson National Memorial

john ericson

Guest Blogger:  Amanda

On a Tuesday summer afternoon, I visited Washington D.C. with a fellow student and friend. We explored sculpture throughout the National Mall area, and at one point, we took a look at the John Ericsson National Memorial which is located at the center of a traffic circle. At first glance, I thought that the artwork represented a narrative about a goddess rather than a naval engineer’s accomplishments. After my friend and I made a brave effort to cross the busy intersection, we took a closer look at the sculpture and read about John Ericsson.

John Ericsson was a Swedish born engineer and inventor who famously helped the United States, or specifically the Union Navy during the Civil War. He developed the screw propeller which improved a ship’s ability to travel long distances. He designed the ship, the USS Monitor, which aided the US Navy blockade efforts against the Confederacy ensuring their naval supremacy.

The sculpture stands twenty feet tall and is made of pink Milford granite. Ericsson is depicted as a seated figure at a height of 6 feet and 5 inches, over life-size. The three standing figures above him represent adventure, labor, and vision, which were three important factors in creating his innovations. It was dedicated in the spring of 1926 in Washington, D.C. by President Calvin Coolidge and Crown Prince Gustaf Adolf of Sweden. Congress authorized the construction for the memorial and gave $35,000 towards the project. Additional funding came from Americans of Scandinavian descent who contributed $25,000. It is located near the National Mall at Ohio Drive and Independence Ave SW.

The sculptor, James Earle Fraser, was a well-known American artist who began his education at the Art Institute of Chicago and who has created several sculptures of famous figures in United States History. He sculpted both the Benjamin Franklin Memorial in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, and the Alexander Hamilton Monument at the United States Treasury in Washington, D.C.. He came from a frontier background in Minnesota and had a respect for engineering because his father worked on expanding railroads out west. He seems to have taken special interest in figures that made contributions to American innovation and portrayed their significance in sculpture as a way to pay respect and gratitude.

 

Omri Amrany: Walter Johnson, Frank Howard, Josh Gibson

Centerfield Plaza, Nationals Park, Washington, DC

Omri Amrany. Walter Johnson (left) and Frank Howard (right), 2009. Bronze. Centerfield Plaza, Nationals Park, Washington, DC.

I went to my last Washington Nationals baseball game of the season on Thursday night. Leaving the game I commented to my husband and son that I was going to write a blog entry about the three sculptures that are prominently displayed at the Centerfield Plaza. Their negative comments quickly followed regarding the sculptures. I tried to sway their opinion with a different way of looking at the works of art. This is what we discussed.

There are three sculptures that face the baseball fans as they immediately walk in the center field gate. The three Washington Senators are Walter Johnson on the left, Frank Howard in the middle, and Josh Gibson on the right. The bronze sculptures were created by Omri Amrany. DC Commission on the Arts & Humanities awarded the contract to Mr. Amrany to create the three bronze sculptures in 2008.  The works of art were unveiled in the Spring of 2009.

I am going to discuss the sculpture on the right in my photo.  Frank Oliver Howard, a Washington Senator,  is said to be a  “physically intimidating hitter in baseball history” a quote from the pedestal his statue sits on.  The quote refers to his hitting as does the form of the sculpture. The sculpture shows Frank Howard hitting a ball with every sequential movement of his swing clearly articulated.  The artist is showing us the energy that exudes from Howard as he follows through with his swing.  His whole body is evoking the release of his pent-up energy…look at his clenched lips and expression as he swings.  As the light dances on the rough texture we can see that every part of his body is in motion. This is what we are supposed to remember and commemorate about Frank Howard.  Imagine if the work of art was Howard just standing with this bat frozen in time.  Does that tell us anything about Howard?  By Mr. Amrany integrating the 4th dimension of motion in a 3 dimensional work of art, we can now visually understand and appreciate the greatness of this baseball player.

Jacques Jouvenal: Benjamin Franklin

Benjamin Franklin

Jacques Jouvenal. Benjamin Franklin, 1889. 1100 Pennsylvania Ave., NW, Washington, DC.

Guest Blogger:  Mari

On a rare cool morning this past August I took the metro into Washington, D.C. and wandered my way down Pennsylvania Avenue. After running into the Old Post Office Pavilion for a quick coffee break, I came across a sculpture of Benjamin Franklin, a founding father of both America and our postal service.

The sculpture, as I later found out, was dedicated on January 17, 1889 and created by a French artist named Jacques Jouvenal to stand in front of the Post Office Pavilion. It is no wonder that Benjamin Franklin was chosen as the subject for this piece because he served as the first Postmaster General of the newly formed United States of America in 1775 and standardized the postal system while serving as Postmaster General for the colonial British government before the American Revolution.

Composed of marble, the statue is reminiscent of the ancient Roman orator pose, one hand raised to command attention and convey speech while the other clutches a bundle of papers. I was awed by Franklin’s form; both his large pedestal and heroic figure exude dignity in an admirable but not too intimidating way. What I found so interesting about the artist’s depiction of this very Classical Benjamin Franklin was that it was made to adorn the Post Office Pavilion at the time of the building’s conception. The Post Office Pavilion was created to display the modern spirit sweeping the nation and boasted the first electrical power plant within a government building. I found myself questioning why the architects and commissioners of the Post Office Pavilion chose to place such a Classical piece in front of a building meant to exhibit America’s transition into the modern world. Perhaps it was to remind Americans that despite how much we advance, it is also important to retain our historic roots.

Regardless of the motivations behind the piece, the old Post Pavilion’s homage to Benjamin Franklin is an inspiring reminder of our revolutionary past as well as a celebration of our modern future.

Michael Lantz: Man Controlling Trade

Guest Blogger:  Emily

I’ve passed this sculpture countless times on my way to and from the National Gallery of Art, which is just across the street. With its rounded, stocky figures that appear to be unrealistically muscular and bloated at the same time, the sculpture has never been one of my favorites.

Sometimes, though, learning about the meaning of a work of art is enough to stimulate a completely different appreciation for the work. When I learned the title of this sculpture, Man Controlling Trade, and that it decorates the headquarters of the Federal Trade Commission, I began to understand the work on a whole new level.

The Federal Trade Commission, or FTC for short, was established in 1914, and by 1938 it was in charge of policing all anti-competitive and unfair business practices in the US. In 1938, the same year that the FTC was granted a substantial increase in power, the commission held the largest American sculptural competition ever. Over 500 artists submitted models of potential sculptures to adorn the outside of the building. The winning idea, fully realized outside the FTC building today, was submitted by sculptor Michael Lantz, an established New York artist who specialized in public sculpture.

Man Controlling Trade

Man Controlling Trade. Michael Lantz, 1942. Federal Trade Commission, 600 Pennsylvania Ave., NW, Washington DC

Knowing that the statue was meant to represent the difficulties of managing an unpredictable, violent market caused me to view this work in a different light. I now appreciate the strain of the male figure’s back muscles, and his determined expression as he struggles to control the horse. The male figure and the horse are locked in a tense, endless fight, refusing to lift their steely gazes off of each other, illustrating how business will always be suspicious of the FTC, and how the FTC will always be suspicious of business. Lantz, though, makes a significant distinction between the two. While business is represented as an unruly, wild horse, the FTC is depicted as a hardworking, dedicated man trying to restrain the animal from whatever destruction it may cause. It is clear on which side Lantz’s sympathies lay.

Robert Berks: Albert Einstein

On a recent Tuesday morning trek into DC, we stumbled upon Albert Einstein near the National Academy of Science’s Headquarters.

Dedicated on April 22nd, 1979, and sculpted by Robert Berks, the memorial commemorates the centennial celebration of the famous scientist’s birth. Though everyone knows who Einstein is, we were more curious about the sculptor who brought him to life. It turns out that Berks is well-known for his likenesses of US presidents, Nobel Laureates, and celebrities. His trademark rough-hewn texture humanizes his subjects, something we found to be true for his sculpture of Einstein.

Einstein

Robert Berks. Albert Einstein, 1979, Bronze. National Academy of Sciences Building, 2101 Constitution, N.W., Washington, DC.

We took a closer look at Mr. Einstein. The bronze statue, weighing 4 tons and measuring 12 feet tall, is surprisingly approachable. Though we didn’t end up sitting in the lap of the genius, his grandfatherly, endearing look excited more than a few remarks on his elderly cuteness. He appears comfortable and relaxed, simply sitting down and ruminating peacefully. Lost in thought, oblivious to the book of accomplishments in his left hand, Einstein invites the visitor to reflect with him on the steps. Below his feet, a star chart replicates the night sky on the day the memorial was dedicated.
Curiosity drove us to further research back at home. Though we had known that Einstein lived in the US for a significant amount of time, we were surprised to discover just how deep his loyalty to the country lay. It turns out that besides helping America develop the first atomic bomb during World War II, he also hand-wrote a copy of his theory on special relativity and auctioned it off to support the war effort, raising an astounding 6 million dollars. This gives more context to one of his quotes inscribed on the memorial: “As long as I have any choice in the matter, I shall live only in a country where civil liberty, tolerance, and equality of all citizens before the law prevail.”
Guest Bloggers: Amanda, Emily, and Mari

http://www.nasonline.org/about-nas/visiting-nas/nas-building/the-einstein-memorial.html

 

Guest Bloggers

My Advanced Placement Art History students are continuing their passion for art history this year in an Independent Study class.  The students are photographing and researching some of the many sculptures in the Washington, DC metro area. They will be posting their commentary on this site!  I hope you enjoy reading and learning about the incredible art in our metro area.   We look forward to your comments.

Vincent Van Gogh

The Washington Post reports that a Vincent Van Gogh painting has been authenticated.  The painting has spent the last 60 years in an attic in Norway.  The last time a Van Gogh painting was authenticated was 85 years ago.  The painting is Sunset at Montmajour.  The painting depicts Southern France, Arles, and was around the same time as Sunflowers and The Yellow House.

As I was reading this article, I realized that there is so much we don’t know about so many artists. Authenticating works like this Van Gogh is like finding a piece to a puzzle.  The puzzle is Van Gogh’s creative journey.  The creative process is complicated and very personal.  The artwork (along with other primary resources) is a tool to help us to understand the artist on a deeper level.  When we can study how the artist experimented with technique and content, we can begin to understand the artist’s journey.    Van Gogh might not have considered this a great work but it helps art historians to understand his creative journey.   When we think of Van Gogh’s process rather than the product, the artist becomes a human being and in turn we can relate to the artist whether we are also an artist, an art historian or one who appreciates and loves art.  So when a museum has a retrospective exhibit on one artist, go to the exhibit because this is your chance to begin to understand the artist’s creative journey.

http://www.washingtonpost.com/entertainment/museums/van-gogh-museum-says-it-has-identified-long-lost-van-gogh-painting/2013/09/09/f1e10d3e-192e-11e3-80ac-96205cacb45a_story.html