Monday, May 19, 2014

The Statue of Liberty (III)

Location:   New York Harbor
Year:   1886

The creation of the Statue of Liberty was a 21 year process. Although Bartholdi wanted to begin work on the Statue of Liberty in 1865, the political situation in France was unfavorable. France was being ruled by Napoleon III, and although Napoleon III was a social democrat and a progressive in many areas, he was also a compleat imperialist and a rock-ribbed monarchist who would have seen Bartholdi's statue as a paean to revolution. Anyone at the time speaking of "liberty" --- much less a man creating a gigantic figurine in honor of the idea --- would have been subject to probable arrest, imprisonment, torture in jail, and exile to Devil's Island --- that is, if they were not executed outright. Bartholdi waited for a change in the social and political climate, hoping that he could complete the statue in time for the U.S. Centennial, but, as it transpired, he could not even begin work until 1870. It was not until then that the Franco-Prussian War swept Napoleon III's reign out of existence

Bartholdi hired Georges Gustave Eiffel, who had designed the famous tower bearing his name, to build the steel core of the supporting structure and the massive framework to which Bartholdi's 300 massive copper plates would be affixed. The statue was designed to sway in the wind between 3 to 6 inches to maintain its structural integrity. The copper plates are 3/32 of an inch thick --- the width of two pennies. 

From the beginning, Bartholdi planned to erect the statue in New York Harbor. Although groups in both Boston and Philadelphia offered to pay for the entire cost of the statue if the site were moved to their city, Bartholdi refused to consider any site but New York. He had in mind specifically Bedloe's Island lying just southwest of the tip of Manhattan Island. 


Bedloe's Island was the site of Fort Eliezer Darby Wood, a star-shaped fort constructed for but not completed until after the War of 1812. By 1870, the fort was obsolescent, and Bartholdi felt that the fort could be used as a base for the pedestal he envisioned. 

The face of the Statue of Liberty is based upon that of Bartholdi's mother. Bartholdi wrote of the design: "The surfaces should be broad and simple, defined by a bold and clear design, accentuated in the important places." He wanted to avoid complexity, deducing correctly that the size of the statue would make too much facial detailing overwhelming. 

As the thing developed, Bartholdi's statue took far longer to design and cast than he originally anticipated. Bartholdi knew he could never finish the statue in time for the Centennial, but he worked diligently on sections that could be more easily transported in support of fundraising efforts. Still, it was not until 1875 that Bartholdi announced the creation of the Franco-American Union to raise funds for the statue.

The arm was exhibited at the Philadelphia Centennial Exposition in 1876. When it was viewed, contributions for the pedestal flooded in from all over America. One of the chief fundraisers on the American side of the ocean was 19 year old Theodore Roosevelt, New Yorker, and future President of the United States.


The head was a major attraction at the Paris Exposition in 1878.

While fundraising for the statue itself progressed in France, the pedestal began to be built atop 65 foot tall Fort Wood. Joseph Pulitzer, the newspaper magnate, alone raised over $100,000 for the pedestal, $40,000 from his own pocket, over $60,000 in donations as small as pocket change. The pedestal is a square structure 89 feet high. 

The Liberty Island Museum, located in the lobby of the pedestal, chronicles the difficulties and triumphs that France and the United States overcame to together build an enduring symbol of freedom. The museum also covers how the Statue of Liberty's interpretation has changed since its erection in 1886.



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