Museum Without Walls™: AUDIO – The Washington Monument by artist Rudolph Siemering

[Robert Harris Sproat] Just look up at that. [Anna O. Marley] If you’re standing right underneath, it’s very hard to see his face. [Sproat] But that is Washington. I’m Bob Sproat. I’m a past president of the State Society of the Cincinnati of Pennsylvania. It’s the oldest patriotic organization in the country and it essentially was started by officers that served in the Revolution, goes down father to son. My great-grandfather was on the committee that presented the monument to the city of Philadelphia in May of 1897. [Marley] And I’m Anna Marley, curator of Historical American Art at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts. [Sproat] Artists of the time were use to depicting kings with the swords, and scabbers, and the crowns. [Marley] They’re used to making portraits of the wealthiest people in the country. [Sproat] There was confusion on quite what to do with Washington. [Marley] He wanted to be seen as a man of the people, but he was still the president. So you need to find a way as an artist to balance those two things. The sculptor of this piece was a gentleman named Rudolph Siemering. He was a German artist. [Sproat] Siemering’s solution was to make the monument about more than just the man. [Marley] It’s really about a man, his time, and his country. [Sproat] You have the top which shows Washington on his horse leading his troops in the battle. [Marley] That seems to become, in the 1850s, the most popular way of depicting George Washington. [Sproat] The second part of the statue.. [Marley] Which you can walk up to… [Sproat] Depicts his time, call to arms, leading up to the Revolution of course, and the victory after the Revolution. [Marley] When you stand on the platform, you will notice that there are two large, female figures. They’re symbols of America. And the one sitting beneath George Washington in the front is a figure of America as liberty. Beneath her feet, crushed, she’s actually stepping on some chains, which symbolizes the chains of oppression that have linked her with Great Britain. The woman in the back of the statue… [Sproat] She represents the call to arms. [Marley] She’s the rallying cry of the Revolution. [Sproat] Her hair is limp and tangled, she’s sweaty, she looks like she could be on the battlefield. [Marley] Siemering the artist was very interested in depicting all the coincidences of nature and he asked the Society of the Cincinnati to send him busts and portraits of American men and women. [Sproat] Warts and all, everything! [Marley] Even though Siemering claimed he wanted to depict the real American people, he ennobled them. They’re the best looking people, they’re beautiful examples of America. Then you move out and you get to walk around these wonderful beasts: moose, prong-horned elk… [Sproat] Buffalo… [Marley] The bear… [Sproat] The alligator. [Marley] All of the animals that are depicted are native to America. [Sproat] The figures near those animals they represent the rivers. [Marley] We don’t think of the rivers as our life sustainer, but imagine if someone took away our roads; thats’s what rivers were. So we’ve gone from the man, to his times, to his country. We want to see our leader George Washington as this man who doesn’t want anything other than to preserve and protect his country. We want to see Native Americans and European Americans on an equal footing, living in harmony with the animals. It’s a hope for what America should be.

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