If you appreciate public sculpture, Gloucester is a good place to live. For a town this size we have some remarkable pieces of public sculpture partly due to the popularity of Lanesville–-a village on the far end of the island that is, in fact, part of Gloucester (no matter what they say)–-as the workplace of some distinguished American sculptors in the early part of the twentieth century. It is easy to take these magnificent pieces for granted, especially the ones you see every day.
Late yesterday afternoon, I had to run out to do a couple errands and, as I was driving around the statue of Joan of Arc in front of the Legion I happened to look up and notice the full moon rising behind the statue, even as the last golden rays of the setting sun were glinting off of it. Luckily, I had a camera in the car and snapped the picture at left.
This statue, created by Anna Hyatt Huntington who worked in Lanesville, features a Gloucester fire horse named Frank. Who the model for Joan was, I don’t know. Folks here in Gloucester like to joke about Joan being positioned so that visitors driving into town over the bridge are greeted by Joan and Frank’s backsides. They forget that Joan was created in 1921, a quarter century before the Piatt Andrews Bridge was built, and the only way into town was up Route 127 which Joan faces.
Joan is looking very good these days. In the year 2000 she was given a makeover and years of green patina was removed to restore her to the deep luster of her original bronze. My friend Rebecca Reynolds, who is writing her doctoral dissertation on Huntington, was instrumental in organizing a group of Girl Scouts to accomplish this task.
I first met Rebecca when we collaborated on a book about the Manship family of artists/sculptors who still have their gallery in Lanesville. Later we worked on a second book together about Gloucester sculptor George Aarons. Rebecca has recently moved into Walker Hancock’s old studio out in Lanesville where she plans to spend the winter finishing her dissertation.
As I drove down Middle Street to the Boulevard, the moon seemed to be following me and by the time I was passing Leonard Craske’s famous Man At The Wheel, he too was illuminated by the setting sun with the moon just behind him (right). I love this statue. Most of us in Gloucester do. I wish I knew more about it. Craske lived and worked on Rocky Neck where he created this statue in 1923. It was erected in honor of Gloucester’s 300th Anniversary and pays homage to the men of Gloucester who have earned livings and lost lives at sea. In his book, Mark mentions passing the statue every day as he steamed out of Gloucester Harbor into the North Atlantic to tend his lobster traps. After reading Mark’s harrowing experiences in that book and getting to know the man himself, my reverence for that statue and all it represent has grown a hundredfold.
Since it was a beautiful, warm evening, especially for November, and I was able to drive with the top down (always the barometer of a successful day–-like most convertible-drivers I judge life by “topless” days and non-topless days), I took a ride out along the back shore before returning home. The moon was well up and the sky a lovely rose-color. There, mounted on one of the back shore’s huge boulders was a third sculpture (left), this time by an unknown artist–-someone who, while passing by, felt compelled to create his/her own little work of art. It was lovely.
I don’t know what it is about Gloucester. People have been saying that for centuries. It opens your eyes and makes you see the world in a different way. Last night, as happens so often, I was again reminded of how much I love this place and how fortunate I am to be here. I hope I never lose awareness of that.
Thanks for reading.
Note: This post originally ran on November 11, 2005. It is one of the most frequently visited posts on this blog and is being repeated for those who have subscribed to our new feed service.