Sunday, December 31, 2006

Nathan Hale: OMOM Essay 8

MacMonnies’s Hale has always been one of my favorite New York sculptures. In fact, the discussion of the details of Hale in Outdoor Monuments of Manhattan is based on an article I did way back in 1998, before this book was even conceived of. With regrets I had to cut the article's comparison of MacMonnies's Hale with Pratt's Hale. The third or fourth revision of the manuscript for Outdoor Monuments was running 20% beyond the length specified in the contract, and something (a lot of somethings, in fact) had to go. Eventually some of them will turn up as out-takes in this blog or on the Forgotten Delights website.

For Outdoor Monuments of Manhattan, I added to "About the Sculpture" the first of several discussions of the purpose of art.

"About the Subject" focuses on the fire that raged in Manhattan just after the British occupation in 1776. The British search for arsonists turned up Hale, who had been operating undercover in the city to gather intelligence for Washington.

In the photo above you can see more clearly the ropes just above Hale’s elbows. For another view of the Hale see the Forgotten Delights calendar (March 2007), where it’s accompanied by the Arthur Hugh Clough poem "Say Not the Struggle Nought Availeth" - a great poem for starting a New Year, particularly if the state of the world tends to make you pessimistic.

“Say Not the Struggle Nought Availeth”

Say not the struggle nought availeth,
The labor and the wounds are vain,
The enemy faints not, nor faileth,
And as things have been they remain.

If hopes were dupes, fears may be liars;
It may be, in yon smoke concealed,
Your comrades chase e’en now the fliers,
And, but for you, possess the field.

For while the tired waves, vainly breaking,
Seem here no painful inch to gain,
Far back, through creeks and inlets making,
Comes silent, flooding in, the main.

And not by eastern windows only,
When daylight comes, comes in the light;
In front, the sun climbs slow, how slowly
But westward, look, the land is bright.

If you like that, try Longfellow’s “Success”, same calendar, October 2007.

Saturday, December 30, 2006

Horace Greeley: OMOM Essay 7

Why does Greeley look so disheveled? In "About the Sculpture," I compare Ward's Greeley at City Hall to Doyle's Greeley at Herald Square, and argue that the rumpled look makes the Ward sculpture a better likeness of Greeley. (Objective esthetic evaluation is a topic that's covered in more detail in Essay 16 of Outdoor Monuments of Manhattan, on Lincoln.)

"About the Subject" includes an paragraph by Greeley (1811-1872) explaining his novel concept for what is covered in his New York Tribune. While Greeley had flaws, quirks, and self-contradictions, I have to admire him for the quote in the Sidebar, in which (at age 31) he asserts his right to disagree with an older and more experienced business partner: "I have given you and I have been ever ready to give you any service in my power, but my understanding, my judgment, my consciousness of conviction, of duty and public good - them I can surrender to no man. You wrong yourself in asking." (That's about a quarter of the Sidebar.)
On the Forgotten Delights site you can read Greeley's description of New York ca. 1831, and a list of some of the political causes he promoted and condemned.

Below: detail of the Doyle's Greeley

Friday, December 29, 2006

Marketing Outdoor Monuments of Manhattan

Publishers these days don't run to three-martini lunches and author tours - at least not for a first-time author who writes about New York and already lives there - so as the release date of Outdoor Monuments of Manhattan approaches I'm spending a fair amount of time thinking about marketing. This is far, far from my fields of expertise, so I make it a game.
Who do I know who's most likely to talk about the book to a lot of people if given a pre-publication copy? Make a list, and ask NYU Press to send galleys.
What periodicals and newspapers are most likely to publish reviews or mention the book? Keep a running list, ask NYU Press to let me know who they're sending review copies to, and suggest additions.
NYU Press will produce postcards and some printed material. What promo pieces can I produce inexpensively? "Moo cards" ( ) are extremely cute, but too small for any practical use. Instead, I designed print-at-home business cards with the book's cover on them, in hopes people will remember the image well enough to stop, look, and pick up the book if they see it in a bookstore.

This week's project was designing a promo piece to offer as a prize to the first five people who write good reviews for Amazon. I decided on a tote bag rather than a mug or mousepad, because the tote would presumably be carried around rather than sitting on a desk. But the minimum order for silk-screened tote bags is dozens, which would cost far more than I should spend. If I order only 5, the cost shoots up to $25 each. Youch. The solution: using Avery T-shirt transfer paper to copy the book's cover to a piece of fabric, which I can then sew as a pocket onto a mass-produced plain-color tote. That brings the cost of the totes down to $9 or so each, which I can afford as long as I only produce 5 of them.

George Washington: OMOM Essay 6

Several sculptures in Outdoor Monuments of Manhattan have elements that recall Ancient Greece and Rome. In the Washington at Nassau and Wall Streets it's the fasces, that bundle of rods behind Washington. (And yes, I think the choice not to include the traditional axe for cutting off malefactors' heads was the right one.) "About the Sculpture" discusses the effect of such elements and the popularity of the Neoclassical style in the late 18th and 19th centuries.

Historians such as Joseph Ellis and David McCullough don't just tell what happened - they involve their readers by showing the options available in a given period and why people chose one over the other. In "About the Subject" I try to use that approach to present Washington's 1789 inauguration as his contemporaries might have perceived it. The Sidebar is W. Irving's vivid description of the difficulties facing Washington as he took office for the first time.
For a photo of the whole sculpture from the front, see the essay on Washington on the Forgotten Delights site, which also includes substantial excerpts from Washington Irving's biography of George Washington.

Thursday, December 28, 2006

Charging Bull: OMOM Essay 5

Like Liberty, this image is so familiar that I found it difficult to think what to say about it. I jump-started my brain by imagining it with a different texture, a different shape to the tail, a different setting. In "About the Sculpture" I introduce a key point for Outdoor Monuments of Manhattan: the distinction between a sculpture's subject (the specific person, object or story shown) and its theme (the abstract meaning of the work).

"About the Subject" describes how the artist donated this piece to New York and what he intended it to represent.

I wanted to write about the origin of the stock-market term "bulls and bears," but was reminded that research on the Net is much more useful for recent events than for historical ones. All the citations of bulls and bears on the Net turned out to be extracts (usually unacknowledged) from the Oxford English Dictionary. I did finally find an interesting quote for the Sidebar on bulls and bears, printed in Harper's Weekly in 1860. (Harper's is a wonderful historical resource, but it's available on the Net by subscription only.)

Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Continents at U.S. Customs House: OMOM Essay 4

"About the Sculpture" investigates the symbolism of Asia, Africa, Europe and America and how the figures play off against each other. The "aha!" moment for this essay in Outdoor Monuments of Manhattan was when I realized that the figures need not be taken as racist comments about the behavior of people on different continents. They could be understood as representing states of mind and characteristic behavior of different types of people.

I spent quite some time puzzling over what the man next to America is pushing - see the image at upper left. Google is great for text searches, but not very useful for identifying symbols if you don’t know the symbol’s name. A search for "wheel wings symbol" brought me to a tattoo site explaining the meaning of the winged wheel as a biker symbol and another explicating the lyrics of the Grateful Dead’s “The Wheel.” Finally (in print), I found a scholar who referred to the winged wheel as the “wheel of progress,” which makes sense visually - it look as if it’s going somewhere fast.

"About the Subject" explains why the U.S. Customs building in New York was so important that its facade rated four major works by one of America's most important sculptors. Hint: Alexander Hamilton's ultimately responsible.

Below, details from the other Continents: Asia's footstool of human skulls, Europe's companion studying a laurel-wreathed skull, and Africa's companion leaning on a sphinx.

Giovanni da Verrazzano: OMOM Essay 3

The most challenging part of researching this sculpture was deciphering the inscription, for which credit goes to my nephew's high-school Italian teacher. Given the inscription, it’s clear that Verrazzano and his allegorical companion are not merely commemorative but polemical. That's the focus of "About the Sculpture." "About the Subject" discusses Verrazzano's voyage to North America, his discovery of New York Harbor, and New York's development as a commercial center.

Verrazzano is the second of ten sculptures in in Outdoor Monuments of Manhattan that also appeared in Forgotten Delights: The Producers. FDP has more details on Verrazzano's voyage and a full transcription of the Italian and English inscriptions.

After I'd finished the manuscript of Outdoor Monuments I went to Battery Park to take a better photo of Verrazzano. To my dismay, the monument had disappeared: not even the base was left. Frantic emails to Parks Department officials brought the news that it had been removed for cleaning and will reappear several years from now, when renovations on the subways beneath the park are completed. Since it's number 3 of 54 essays, removing it would have required not only renumbering the titles of all the subsequent essays, but correcting every single cross-reference as well - and there are a lot of cross-references. I opted to leave Verrazzano in the book and use a photo from the Parks Department's Photo Archives. The photo that appears above was taken several years ago, before the sculpture was removed for cleaning.

Sunday, December 24, 2006

John Ericsson: OMOM Essay 2

Ericsson was one of the first New York sculptures I became familiar with, and remains one of my favorites because of what I've learned about its subject, who was highly intelligent, innovative, and assertive to the point of tactlessness. If you find that you, too, like Ericsson, Forgotten Delights: The Producers incorporates lengthier quotes from him.

This is the first of ten sculptures in Outdoor Monuments of Manhattan that also appeared in FDP. "About the Subject" focuses on the Battle of the Ironclads in the context of naval warfare in the 19th c. "About the Sculpture" discusses the purpose of portrait sculpture and introduces the idea of selectivity, one of the key concepts in Ayn Rand's definition of art. Rand's esthetics forms the basis for my understanding of art.

Saturday, December 23, 2006

Statue of Liberty: OMOM Essay 1

Since the essays in Outdoor Monuments of Manhattan are arranged to be convenient for a walking tour, from the southern end of Manhattan heading north, the first sculpture I had to write about was the Statue of Liberty. That was difficult: I'd seen so many photos and replicas of Liberty that I didn’t actually "see" her any more. What could I possibly write that wouldn’t be trite and repetitious?

I decided to try to shake off the modern context by investigating what Liberty meant to those who commissioned her. It turns out she wasn't meant to be a welcoming figure for immigrants: she was an advertisement for liberty by a group of men living under a repressive regime. That became the focus of "About the Subject."

The most delightful discovery in my research on Liberty was a pamphlet written by sculptor Frederic-Auguste Bartholdi to help raise funds for her construction. Bartholdi makes fascinating comments on how he chose the site for Liberty and on the factors he had to consider when designing a huge statue that would sit a mile from the shore. I quote him extensively in "About the Subject" and the Sidebar.

As far as I can tell Bartholdi's pamphlet hasn't been reprinted or made available on the Web. I read it on a ratty microfilm at the Humanities Research branch of New York Public Library.

Friday, December 22, 2006

Why Dianne blogs

In February 2007 New York University Press will issue Outdoor Monuments of Manhattan: A Historical Guide, on 54 of Manhattan's best outdoor representational sculptures. I conceived OMOM as a guidebook for New Yorkers and tourists, but it evolved into a discussion of historical and esthetic issues that fascinate me, and I hope will fascinate you as well. For the next two months (through February 2007) I plan to post a paragraph or two every day about one of the OMOM essays: what's covered in "About the Sculpture" and "About the Subject," why I chose those particular topics, what I found most surprising when doing the research, and/or what I most regretted deleting. Eventually (in March?) I'll upload out-takes, bibliographical references, and intriguing snippets of research that never even made it into an early draft.

Since 2002 I've been running the website, which offers comments on dozens of outdoor representational sculptures in New York. (It gets from 50,000 to 80,000 hits per month, so someone out there is interested.) The Forgotten Delights site was set up to promote my self-published book Forgotten Delights: The Producers. If you've read FDP, you'll find the format of Outdoor Monuments familiar:

  • Introductory section with title, artist, date, size, medium, location

  • Photograph of the sculpture

  • Sidebar (a substantial quote, often by the person represented or from a contemporary source, sometimes from a poem or novel)

  • About the Sculpture (on the sculpture as art)

  • About the Subject (on the person or event represented)

Outdoor Monuments has better photos than FDP, a more professional layout and binding, and of course it covers 54 items rather than the 19 in FDP. For anyone interested in learning to look at sculpture with an informed and inquisitive eye, OMOM's Appendix A, "How to Read a Sculpture," will be worth the book's purchase price, since it sets out a systematic method for looking at a sculpture.

ISBN 987-0-8147-1987-9. Release date: February 2007. $18.95 paperback, $60.00 cloth. 300 pages. Available from New York University Press and Amazon.