Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Public Memorials: Columbus 1893

Name: Columbus
Date: November 8, 1893
Location: Intersection of Elmwood and Resevoir Avenues, Providence, Rhode Island
Artist: Frédéric Auguste Bartholdi
Why: The sculpture was rected by the Elmwood Association and Gorham Manufacturing Company.
Religious Significance: None
Smithsonian Listing

This is a larger-than-life-size standing bronze figure of Columbus, set on a simple stepped granite base. Sculpted by Frédéric Auguste Bartholdi and cast at the Gorham Manufacturing Company’s nearby foundry, the monument was erected in 1893. It is located at the center of a tiny park in the midst of a busy commercial intersection on the south side of Providence.
The figure of Columbus stands 6’S" high and 4’G" wide and deep; the base is 5’3" by 5’4". The explorer is caught in mid-stride, his left foot stepping off the base. In his left hand he holds a globe; his right arm is raised, his index finger pointing, as if giving an order or sighting land. Columbus wears a short tunic; a wide belt wraps the waist; a second belt across the hip holds a sword. A short full cloak billows out around the figure, and he wears a brimmed hat. There is a coil of line at his feet.
The plain square base is grey Westerly granite. The explorer’s name is carved in raised letters across the front. On the right side of the base are the raised numerals "1492"; on the left side is "1893." There is a small bronze swag mounted on the front of the base beneath the name.

There is some chipping on the lower edge of the base. The tail ends of the bronze swag are missing. The bronze figure shows some very small cracks but is in generally good condition.

Columbus 1893 is historically significant because it is a good example of the work of a master sculptor, Auguste Bartholdi, and because its creation illustrates some significant events in the history of Rhode Island’s Gorham Manufacturing Company, one of the nation’s leading fabricators of bronze sculptures.

This Columbus is a bronze cast of a work originally produced in sterling silver at the Gorham Company’s plant. The sculpture was created by Gorham for the 1892 Columbian Exposition in Chicago. The company had been casting large statues for only a few years and the Columbus was something of a demonstration piece for Gorham--it was large, technically difficult to cast in silver, and the work of a well known artist. 
In preparing for the exposition, a Gorham team had traveled to France to meet with Bartholdi, renowned for his statue of Liberty. Bartholdi’s finished model was shipped across the Atlantic to be cast in Providence. The sculpture was made in two sections and used 30,000 ounces of silver. The casting was a ceremonial occasion-- invited guests were feted as they watched the process. The completed work was shipped to Chicago via rail and accompanied by Gorham officials.

Following the exposition, Columbus was returned to the Gorham plant and was melted down--it had never been intended as a permanent work sterling silver being an impractical material for an outdoor piece and had served its purpose as a temporary celebration and as an advertisement for the skill and ambition of Gorham’s foundry teams.

The bronze Columbus here nominated was created in 1893 and dedicated on November 8 of that year. Bartholdi visited Newport around this time and may have had some involvement in the foundry production. 
This Columbus was a gift to the City of Providence from the Elmwood Association, a civic group from the residential neighborhood near the Gorham plant. No other work by Bartholdi is known in Rhode Island. Though Gorham often produced multiple casts of works it had commissioned, no other cast of the Columbus has been identified.

Though commemorative in nature, Columbus has also achieved historical significance, both as the work of a master and as a document in the history of the Gorham Manufacturing Company.

The small park now has a narrow path and shrubs.

Columbus frequently attracts taggers.

Smithsonian photo

Smithsonian photo

Photo credit: Ronald J Onorato (1999)
Columbus statute in Columbus Square 1915-07-03

 photos (c)2014 Steve Ahlquist (unless noted)

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