Arrant Nonsense, Art, History, Removing Statues, Revisionist History, Sculpture, statue, Waterloo, William Seward

Learning All About History by Looking at Statues. Chapter VI. A Hometown Hero.

Chap VI.

Our next statue was chosen because its sculptor was from my hometown.

I wanted to discuss the intellectual and aesthetic question “Why is this artist’s most famous work, the most-replicated statue by an America sculptor, during the 19th century, like a chronic sinus infection?”

The answer to the question:  Drip, drip, drip.

I’ll explain the dripping in just a sec.

I am from Waterloo, NY.

If you ask people in my village, the only famous person from here is a football coach, named Coughlin (pronounced just like you’d think, like a cat with a hairball).

Runner-up for local history buffs, is a guy named Gridley, who invented an improved washboard (not kidding, it was curved).

The back of the village garage, which faces a defunct grocery store, and a crumbling, unusable bridge, has a mural, showing Murray & Welles, who began the village’s Memorial Day observances in 1866.

Then one day, by chance, I found out that one of the most successful American sculptors of the 19th Century was born here.

Not only is there no statue of him in Waterloo, but in all seriousness, I’ve never once heard his name mentioned in his birthplace.

It’s Randolph Rogers.  Born 6 July 1825.

You can see his works in parks, galleries, and the better sort of cemeteries in NYC, Hartford, Gettysburg, Cincinnati, Detroit, Richmond, Philadelphia, Washington, etc.

His “Columbus Doors,” all 20,000 pounds of them, are the main entrance to the U.S Capitol.  They’re an homage to Lorenzo Ghiberti’s Renaissance masterpiece, the “Gates of Paradise” in Florence.

Randolph Roger’s versions are 17′ tall, and depict everyday life in Columbus, Ohio, during a political convention.


One one door, a stylized border of venial sins surrounds panels with scenes of graft, extortion, lobbying, malfeasance, pettyfogging, etc. while the other door depicts the politicians’ torments in the afterlife.

Rogers created statues and busts of Adams, Lincoln, William Seward, General Lew Wallace (of “Ben Hur” fame), and allegorical figures like “The Genius of Connecticut” for the top of their statehouse.  (This last one was later re-named “We’re All Above Average” and then melted down for scrap during WWII.)

His Civil War monuments include the Soldiers’ National Monument at Gettysburg.

The Seward statue is in Madison Square Park, in NYC, and was the subject of a scurrilous rumor that Rogers re-purposed a leftover Lincoln body and stuck on a Seward head.  It’s simply not true.  The proportions are fine – Seward just had a small head, relative to his body and nose.

(Henry Adams wrote that he had “a head like a wise macaw.“)


And replicas of one of Roger’s statues are in almost every big art gallery in the country.

The work is called “Nydia

It was the most popular American sculpture of the 19th Century.

Nydia is based on a character in a book called “The Last Days of Pompeii” (1834).

The author, Bulwer-Lytton, was a politican-novelist, and poet-playwright.  It’s all about hyphens with this guy.

The book was a huge hit.

And it’s absolutely unreadable.  I know that, because I tried.  Really.  Cannot be done.

I mean, I have an exceptionally high tolerance for tedium.  I can show you my survivor badge for “One Thousand PowerPoint Presentations” and once, I stayed awake for 3 ½ minutes of “Twilight.”  But this book – –  I lasted one page.

Here’s the beginning:

’HO, Diomed, well met!  Do you sup with Glaucus to-night?’ said a young man of small stature, who wore his tunic in those loose and effeminate folds which proved him to be a gentleman and a coxcomb.”

Doesn’t that just make you long for a dark & stormy night, so you could kill the author before he writes anything else?

“Sup with Glaucus”??  Why no, I finally got a prescription for Amoxicillin and that cleared up that supping Glaucus, boy, I’m glad to be done with all that Mucus and Phlegma.

But it turns out, Glaucus is not a medical condition, it is the hero.  And he and Nydia live in Pompeii.

And also a type of sea gull, I looked it up in Wikipedia.  “The glaucous gull (Larus hyperboreus)…the second largest gull in the world. which breeds in Arctic regions of the Northern Hemisphere and winters south to shores of the Holarctic.”

I remember thinking that you might want to know that, but now I don’t know why.

(Didn’t you think for sure, Glaucus was a sinus or eye infection?)

One more sentence, and you’re done.

Well, you must sup with me some evening;  I have tolerable muraenae in my reservoir, and I ask Pansa the aedile to meet you.”

Well, sure, I’d love to sup, unless some clever blacksmith has invented tines, and then we could just eat with forks, like grownups, and stop all this supping crap.

Um, aedile is a type of Roman magistrate?  And I found, with a dawning sense of horror, that muraena is a type of Mediterranean moray.

So this idiot  is bragging that his reservoir is infested with eels ?? and no doubt we’re going to be supping up jellied eels for dinner??  and why is this paired with the magistrate??  Unless it’s the politician/slimy eel thing??


I misplaced my notes – – this is either a still from the 1913 silent film “Last Days of Pompeii,” or a current cabinet meeting in Washington.


It’s a long, convoluted lava flow of melodrama — Greeks, Romans, Christians, the Cult of Isis, love potions, a witch, and eels.

Most of the characters are wiped out by the volcano, but not nearly soon enough.

Pompeii is depicted as a warped and decadent place, and yet, not fun.  If anyone tried to get a good bacchanalia going, I’m sure Bulwer-Lytton threw a wet toga over it.  His artistic conceit was clearly to deep-fry every sentence into agonized contortions, to mirror the bodies found in the ashes of Pompeii.

Better to dig up roasted Romans than by buried in this book – I never made it past the first page.

So anyway.

The book was a huge hit.

It was 1834.  In three years, if you’d finished the book, Victoria would begin her reign, and you’d have 63 years, seven months, and two days of additional dullness ahead of you.

In the U.S., free from monarchies and elitist literature, we were celebrating Jacksonian Democracy and getting ready for bank failures, 25% unemployment, and a 7-year long recession.

Most of this wasn’t Bulwer-Lytton’s fault, but he didn’t help.

So…some years after all that, I was in the Memorial Art Gallery in Rochester, NY and ran across a statue of “The Toothache”.

(That was my guess, anyway.)

At her feet rests the broken capital of a Corinthian column, symbolizing an impacted wisdom tooth.



It turned out to be an 1861 work by Randolph Rogers, inspired by the book, depicting Nydia, as she guides Glaucus through the eruption and ash-storm that was engulfing Pompeii, towards the harbor.

There he would be safe, and have lots of lovely eels to eat.

Her mission accomplished, Nydia then continues on, into the Mediterranean.  I don’t remember why, unrequited love I think, but she drowns, or maybe the eels get her, but she definitely dies.

It’s all very tragic, because she didn’t drag Glaucus and Bulwer-Lytton with her.  Somebody should have tied them all together and dropped them off a pier, attached to a Corinthian column.

I think Nydia washes up again, in the epilogue.

So, somehow, Randolph Rogers was inspired to depict Nydia, pre-drowning, but already drippy.

The statue was a huge hit.

It’s displayed in the big galleries in NYC, Washington, Boston, Chicago, Philadelphia, Portland, Providence, L.A., and a whole lot more places.

In fact, Rogers replicated it 167 times (seriously).

Rogers didn’t actually chisel all these himself, of course.  He had a workshop in Italy, where workmen cranked these out for Culture Tourists, in the days when a souvenir was a souvenir, and before snow globes were invented.

Here’s a mention in “A History of European and American Sculpture” by Chandler Rathon Post (1921):

“Randolph Rogers never found his vein.  He tried his hand with tolerable results at several kinds of sculpture, but all his many productions suffer from a blight of dullness…his portrait statues…are fairly respectable performances in stiff rhetoric.”

Well, quite likely, you think I’m all wet, and ignorant, and that Nydia is a lovely statue.  They have one in the Memorial Art Gallery, the National Art Gallery, the Met, the Boston Museum of Fine Arts, Chicago Institute of Art, I’m tripping over this thing where ever I go.

But to my uneducated, rustic eye, it looks awkward, and a bit odd.


Like someone you’d feel bad for, if you ran across her downtown, and probably kind of avoid, because she’s hunched and her dress is half-off, and then you’d feel terrible, when it dawned on you that she was blind, and you weren’t sure if she was trying to cross the street, or if she was aware of her wardrobe malfunction, and depending on the angle, she’s either suffering from toothache, or is listening for something, like maybe an oncoming bus, or chariot, so you’d have to go back and hesitantly ask if she would like assistance in crossing the street, and she says, no, thank you, I’m actually listening for a volcanic eruption.  And until Mount Vesuvius actually blows, you’d think she was delusional, and should you call social services or something, the whole thing is awkward.

Oh, I forgot to mention that.  The character was blind.  The full title is “Nydia, The Blind Flower-Girl of Pompeii”.


She’s not identified as such, but pretty sure this is Nydia, from the 1913 silent movie “The Last Days of Pompeii” (Library of Congress)


It’s an interesting example of how tastes change.  I don’t know if most people today, would be crazy for the statue, or the book.  I’ve yet to find anyone who’s actually read Bulwer-Lytton.  Because I’ve asked a lot of random people at airports, bus stops, restrooms, and bars, and only gotten funny looks.  Apparently he’s really not popular anymore.


(Do you know he added a third Lytton to his name?  Edward George Earle Lytton Bulwer-Lytton, 1st Baron Lytton.  Because having it only twice, you might forget??  Or to distract people from “Bulwer”?)

(Today, “Bulwer-Lytton-Lytton-Lytton Disorder is better known as “Compulsive Redundancy Syndrome.”)

Most of us tend to remember and focus on the good stuff.  In the 1830’s, people were reading “Oliver Twist,” “The Hunchback of Notre Dame,” “The Fall of the House of Usher,” “The Lady of Shalott,” etc.  But just like our own time, people consumed lots of not-so-wonderful stuff.

Maybe that’s the value of looking at “Pompeii” and “Nydia”  – – for contrast, and to show just how wonderful the good writers and artists were.  To remind ourselves, just how exceptional Dickens, Poe, Shelley, Hawthorne, Washington Irving, Byron, Emerson, Delacroix, etc. were.  In 1861, when the statue was unveiled, there were other horrible things happening, like Fort Sumter and the Battle of Bull Run, but there was also Church’s “The Icebergs,” Whistler’s “Symphony in White, No. 1,”  Manet’s “Music in the Tuileries,” and Leutze’s “Westward Ho!” so Rogers can’t use the Civil War as an excuse.

Nydia is shown as she guides some Pompeii people through the blinding volcanic ash-cloud to safety – the man she loves, his girlfriend, and some really insistent people hawking postcards.  That’s admirable, and that’s why she’s holding her hand to her ear.

Although I still think, she could have had a toothache, too, right?  and that’s why she drowned herself, not the unrequited love thing.

The museum sign informs us, that the statue is evocative.  But would you have understood the situation, if I hadn’t told you? That she’s listening for which way an exploding volcano is located?  If she were a Labrador, would you guess that someone was blowing a dog whistle?  Or figure, poor doggy, has a toothache.

Well, we’re all learning a lot from these statues, aren’t we.

And anyway, Randolph Rogers was born in my hometown, he was knighted by King Umberto I, and Art is in the eye of the beholder.  So is glaucoma, I did look it up, and it’s related to Glaucus, but I forget how.  Something to do with seagulls.


Excavation of the Temple of Isis at Pompeii (Wellcome Library)


P.S.  Glaucus, glaucoma, and the seagull really are all related!  But this post is way too long already.


An earlier, and I think, much nicer work, “Ruth Gleaning” (1850).  As in the Book of Ruth in the Bible, and “gleaning” as in gathering up leftover barley.




And one final piece, “The Last Arrow” (1880) – – I wonder if his fellow Upstater, Frederic Remington, saw this, since it predates his bronzes by fifteen years.  These two pictures are from the Met website.


















Teddy Roosevelt, sculpted in butter for the St. Louis World’s Fair, 1904. LOC. Personally, I thought, ghee, a pretty good likeness.


[Second in my Monumental Series “Learning All About History by Looking at Statues”]

As you will recall, however regretfully, we began the series with the Father of Our Country, George Washington.

George was made for statues.

Statuesque since he was a lad.

Strikingly tall, striking a pose in almost countless statues, struck onto coins and then stuck into vending machines, stuck on letters as a stamp, stuck onto dollar bills, and also sometimes stuck on stumps, possibly of cherry trees.


Reenactor visiting Waterloo, NY for the Memorial Day commemoration.



Moving on, here we have a New Yorker, reproduced in numerous statues, and stuffed animals.

Governor, Soldier, President.

In the pictures above and below, “Theodore Roosevelt, Modeled in Butter”.

This was an exhibit at the Louisiana Purchase Exposition of 1904, commonly called the St. Louis World’s Fair.







As I pondered this monument, done in a style called  baroque arteriosclerotic, a thought suddenly occurred to me.

And, man, that’s annoying.  How many times, have I told my brain, “Don’t do that!

A historian’s thinking process should be like a bank robbery – – “Don’t nobody make no sudden moves!

I hate it when random ideas pop up, like a deranged Whac-A-Mole game, and you just cannot pound them back in their hole with the hammer.  So I was dismayed to realize that Teddy’s  1904 butter sculpture for the St. Louis World’s Fair, had somehow brought up a new and timely topic – the removal of statues.

Well, my brain can go off wherever it wants — so long, good riddance, write if you get work — and I’ll go my own way.

But here’s a concept that could help with that debate over taking down monuments.

My plan, the Statue Statute, combines the oleaginous evasiveness of a politician, with the icy reasoning of a historian.


“He who cannot put his thoughts on ice should not enter into the heat of dispute.” Nietzsche


Chill out, dude.  It’s simple.  In future, we’ll make all our statues out of butter or ice. 

Stick ‘em in a refrigerated case —  and here’s a key concept – – fans of the statue have to pay the electric bill to keep things cool.

You can donate online, or by feeding change into a meter.

Way more hygienic than having the actual person there, like Disney’s longest-running show,

“What a Sleeping Beauty!  Lenin on Ice!” in Red Square.



If we have a burning desire to see Jubilation T. Cornpone memorialized in the park, we have to pay to keep him

— in sparkling ice, granita, or well-marbled butterfat.

The Popsicle Pantheon, The Immortal Icebox of Heroes, La Crème Glacée de la Crème.

Ice, pure and transparent, is obviously the wrong medium for politicians, so we can “laud him, all ye people, in lard.”

If we don’t keep the power on, if we waffle, our hero turns into a pool of melted butter.



When memories and passions cool,

and their snow jobs come to light,

and there’s no frozen slush fund to pay the electric bill,

the Sub-Zero Politicians will just melt away

… dissolve like such stuff as bad dreams are made on.

And most likely, the world will just carry on

…spinning in greased grooves.

And in the end, even when all the lights go off,

and the stuff in our refrigerators has gone very bad, become sentient, and taken over the planet,

the people we actually want to remember, will remain

…frozen in our memories, in the times and forms we most love to recall.



We’ll get back to Teddy, another time, don’t worry, I won’t forget.



Art, Frostbite, History, Pantheon, Public Art, Removing Statues, Sculpture, statue, Things to Do When Your Water Crystallizes on You

Giving History an Icy Reception. (Learning All About History By Looking at Statues. Chapter II)



Like so many sophisticated adventure-seekers before us, we were driving around Cattaraugus County, admiring the cows.

There’s a whole lot of ’em.

Restaurants, movie theaters, gas stations, people…not so much.

Eventually, a small sign told us we’d arrived in East Otto.

Apparently, we’d passed through West Otto, and Central Otto, without noticing.

Soon after, my cellphone found a signal again, and could pull up a map.

We discovered that we were southeast of Bagdad, Gowanda, and the Zoar Valley.

And due east of Persia.

Strangers in a strange land.

I hadn’t known our state had these outlandish places, in such a pastoral setting, but I liked the idea of eating cheese from such exotic locales.

Bagdad Brie, Persian Pecorino, Gowanda Gorgonzola.

And yes, as you may have guessed, we’d gotten off the interstate, decided to go home cross-country, no GPS, and were a bit lost.

The endless herds of Holsteins were the only familiar faces we’d seen.  It’s possible we’d seen some of them more than once, as we zigzagged around.

The roads wandered through pastures, woodlots, little hills. We passed an old guy cutting hay, wearing a wool plaid jacket in August, and as we went around the bend, and up a little hill, we realized there was something strange about our surroundings.

There were no cows to be seen.

No cows whatsoever.

Finding ourselves in a landscape totally vacant of cows made us uneasy.



And then, as we came over the rise, suddenly there were strange metal objects — tall, mysterious, like alien totems, as if we’d entered the territory of some weird cult.














There didn’t seem to be any roadblocks manned by the Children of the Corn, so we kept driving, and found we’d driven into the Griffis Sculpture Park.

A rusted but fantabulous remnant of an ancient but very groovy time, called “The Sixties”.




The wonderful man who created this place was named Larry Griffis, Jr.

He came back to Buffalo after serving in WWII, and started a business making nylon stockings.

During a visit to Italy, he fell in love with sculpture.

I saw a picture of him on the internet, and he reminded me a bit of Van Morrison.  His son, and now granddaughter, have kept his workshop in Buffalo going, and the park in East Otto is now hundreds of acres of fields, ponds, and woods, full of sculptures, by Griffis and other artists.




Some are pretty literal creations, like this giraffe, peering into the woods.











Or this giant mosquito.












The woods are full of meandering paths, with abstract creations scattered about.





A pond is surrounded by flying metal geese, and rusted obelisks, which resemble small cellphone towers, as woven from rebar by a cargo cult — some overgrown, some toppled over, and merging into the undergrowth.

A shrine-like creation, marked “Santana,” held an offering of a dozen half-eaten acorns.





What the world needs now…Peace, Love, Rust-Oleum.





Statues and shapes are cast in bronze and aluminum, but most seem to be weathered and rusted iron.

One group resembles chess pieces, another, industrial elements.










We’d arrived quite a distance from the main entrance, where a series of fields and woods harbors some hands-on creations, that you can climb on, and in.
















My favorite resembles the conning tower of a submarine, surfacing in a meadow.












My snapshots only show a fraction of the collection.  You could easily spend the better part of a day, hiking around and discovering things.
















Some of these creations, as the day got close to sundown, seemed a bit spooky, even foreboding.


















But the overwhelming vibe of the place is of whimsical creativity and happiness.






So long for now, from atop the conning tower, surfacing somewhere in the Summer of Love.











Pictures were taken with an iPhone 5s.  The Griffis Park really isn’t that remote, it’s less than an hour south of Buffalo, and half that driving north from Salamanca.  Take a GPS with you. Hugs to the cows.
















1960's, 1970's, Art, NY, Public Art, Sculpture, Upstate New York

Pictures of Upstate New York. August. A marvelous place for a moondance.