Honoring Joan of Arc’s UWS Statue, Pushing for More to Commemorate Women
BY TEQUILA MINSKY | On December 3, students from M.S. 256, which is housed in the Joan of Arc Educational Complex, walked the few blocks from their Upper West Side location to their school’s namesake — the Joan of Arc statue at the foot of West 93rd Street and Riverside Drive. They were to be a part of the Centennial Celebration of the statue.
The students joined Parks Department officials along with those from the Riverside Park Conservancy, French Consul General Bertrand Lortholary, members of the Joan of Arc Statue Committee, Jonathan Kuhn, the Parks Department director of art & antiquities, and Anne Higonnet, a Barnard College arts professor, to celebrate the statue’s centennial and its sculptor, Anna Hyatt Huntington.
Joan of Arc (1411-1431) was a French patriot and martyr, born as Jean La Pucelle, a peasant said to have been divinely inspired to help liberate the French from English rule. Charles VII appointed her commander-in-chief of a small provisional army, which prevailed over the English in 1429. With that victory, Charles VII was crowned king in Rheims Cathedral. Continuing to fight for France, she was captured in 1430 by the Burgundians and sold to the English, who charged her with witchcraft and heresy. Found guilty in a trial, she was condemned to death and burned at the stake on May 30, 1431. Twenty years later, an investigation into the trial led to her sentence being annulled. Nearly 500 years later, in 1920, Jean La Pucelle was canonized as Saint Joan.
In 1909, a group of New York citizens formed a statue committee, and after the 1910 Paris Salon awarded Huntington honors for a sculpture of Saint Joan, the committee gave Huntington the commission to create one in New York City. Architect John Vredenburgh van Pelt designed the pedestal.
On December 6, 1915 the sculpture was unveiled with pomp and circumstance, including music from a military band and attendance by the French ambassador to the US. It was New York City’s first public sculpture created by a woman, and its first honoring a woman.
Replicas of Huntington’s Joan stand in a town square in Gloucester, Massachusetts, as well as in front of the Palace of the Legion of Honor in San Francisco.
During the Centennial Celebration, Higonnet shared interesting backstory on Huntington’s evolutions as an artist. When she received the recognition from the Paris Salon, the jury voiced skepticism that such an accomplished work could have been a woman’s creation.
The Centennial Celebration also included an appearance by performance artist LuLu LoLo, who can be seen around town dressed in full Joan of Arc regalia lobbying for more statues in New York honoring women. At present, only five public monuments represent women — including as well, statues of Harriet Tubman, Eleanor Roosevelt, Golda Meir, and Gertrude Stein. Central Park has none — the statues of fictional Mother Goose and Alice in Wonderland really can’t be counted.
There are ongoing efforts, with the support of women’s rights advocates like Gloria Steinem and Lily Ledbetter, to erect statues of Elizabeth Cady Stanton and her fellow feminist trailblazer Susan B. Anthony in Central Park.
LoLo was inspired to advocate for statues of women when she attended 2011’s centennial commemoration of the 1911 Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire, where 146 garment workers — 123 of them women — perished.