Posts Tagged ‘Daniel Chester French’

28 Blocks

During today’s bike ride on the Metropolitan Branch Trail I encountered a large mural on the facade of the Penn Center building at 1709 3rd Street (MAP), in northeast D.C.’s Eckington neighborhood. In addition to its massive size, what initially caught my attention was the realism and unusual yet simple gray tones that give the mural the appearance of an old black-and-white photograph.

The mural is entitled “28 Blocks,” and is the creation of American artist Garin Baker. Baker resides in New York City and is a traditionally trained realist painter, but his professional career spans across artistic disciplines. Baker spent four months hand-painting the 60’ by 160’ mural on 156 sections of parachute cloth in his studio. He then brought the work to D.C., and used a special polymer glue to attach the mural to the facade of the building, followed by a final coating and varnish that add UV and graffiti protection, thus requiring only minimal maintenance for many years.

The mural gets its name from the 28 blocks of marble used between 1914 and 1922 to erect the Lincoln Memorial’s iconic 120-ton marble statue of a seated Abraham Lincoln. But the mural isn’t intended to honor Lincoln. In fact, even the image of the Lincoln statue within the mural is only a peripheral image to provide context to the focus of the work. The mural depicts and is intended as a tribute to the men who are responsible for cutting out, hauling, carving and erecting the iconic Lincoln Memorial statue, which was designed by sculptor Daniel Chester French and planned by architect Henry Bacon. Most of those men were first or second generation black men who were born free, or Italian immigrants.

A quote from Frederick Douglass is also prominently featured on the mural. It reads: “Without culture there can be no growth; Without exertion, no acquisition; Without friction, no polish; Without labor, no knowledge; Without action, no progress. And without conflict, no victory.”

According to Baker, the color scheme of black, white and gray is intentional and carries symbolism. “People see things in black and white, but it’s really not the full story,” he said. “Only through all the shades of gray do we see the full truth.”

The mural is conveniently positioned adjacent to the Metropolitan Branch Trail, which gives cyclists, joggers and walkers a front row seat to view it. But not only that, the trail runs parallel to the train tracks that not only carries commuters and other riders on the Red Line between the Rhode Island Avenue and NoMa-Gallaudet University and New York Avenue stations, but also ferries people from New York to Union Station, allowing them to see the mural out their windows just before reaching the station. Officials with the city’s Department of General Services say 50,000 or more people a day can see the mural. I’m glad I was one of them today.

 

[Click on the photos to view the full-size versions]

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The First Division Monument

The destination for this lunchtime bike ride was a plaza within President’s Park, west of the White House and due South of the Eisenhower Executive Office Building, between 17th Street Northwest and West Executive Avenue (MAP) in northwest D.C.’s Downtown neighborhood. I rode there because it is the location of the First Division Monument. 

The First Division Monument commemorates all of the soldiers who died while serving in the 1st Infantry Division of the U. S. Army, also known as The Big Red One. Conceived by The Society of the First Infantry Division, the veteran’s organization of the Army’s First Division, it was designed by American architect Cass Gilbert, and sculptor Daniel Chester French, who created the Victory statue that sits atop the monument. French also created the Butt-Millet Fountain, also located in President’s Park.  But he is perhaps best known for the sculpture of a seated Abraham Lincoln at The Lincoln Memorial.

The monument was erected in 1924 and dedicated later that year by President Calvin Coolidge.  It was originally intended to honor the sacrifices made by soldiers of the First Division who fought and died in World War I.  Later, additions to the monument were made to commemorate the lives of First Division soldiers who fought in subsequent wars and conflicts. The World War II addition on the west side was designed by the original architect’s son, Cass Gilbert Jr., and dedicated in 1957. The Vietnam War addition on the east side was added in 1977, and the Desert Storm plaque was installed in 1995.

Another, different type of addition was made to the monument in 1965.  A large flower bed in the shape of a First Division patch was added to the monument as part of Lady Bird Johnson’s landscape plans to beautify the national capital city. The flower bed is located just east of the monument’s south steps.  The symbolism of the flower bed’s shape is clearly visible from the top of the monument’s steps, but less so at ground level, which often results in it being overlooked by visitors.

After obtaining Congressional approval to erect a monument on Federal property, the Society of the First Infantry Division raised all the funds for the original monument, as well as its additions. No taxpayer money was used. However, today the monument and grounds are maintained by the National Park Service.

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The Lincoln Memorial

The Lincoln Memorial

Even if you have never been able to visit the Lincoln Memorial in person, you have most likely seen it many times. An image of the monument to the 16th President is on United States currency, appearing on both the back of the five dollar bill and the reverse side of all pennies minted prior to 2009.  With five dollars and one cent in my pocket on this ride, I rode to the Lincoln Memorial, located at the west end of the National Mall (MAP), across from The Washington Monument.

The Lincoln Memorial was designed by architect Henry Bacon after ancient Greek temples, and stands 190 feet long, is 119 feet wide and almost 100 feet high, with a cement foundation that is 60 feet deep. It is surrounded by 36 enormous columns, one for each of the states in the Union at the time of Lincoln’s death.  By the time the monument was completed, the Union had increased by 12 more states, so the names of all 48 states were carved on the outside of the walls of the memorial. Following the admission of Alaska and Hawaii as states, a plaque with the names of these new states was added.  The statue of the President, which was sculpted by Daniel Chester French, is 19 feet high and weighs 175 tons. The original plan was for the statue to be only ten feet high, but this was changed so that the figure of Lincoln would not be dwarfed by the size of the chamber in which it sits.  The north and south side chambers contain inscriptions of two well-known speeches by President Lincoln, The Gettysburg Address and his second presidential inauguration address in 1865, the latter of which contains a fairly well-known mistake.

Roughly two years following Lincoln’s death in 1865, the U.S. Congress appointed the Lincoln Monument Association to build a memorial to commemorate the assassinated President.  However, the site for the memorial was not chosen until 1901.  Another decade later, President William Howard Taft signed a bill to provide funding for the memorial, and construction began the following month, on February 12th, to commemorate Lincoln’s 102nd birthday.  The Presidential memorial was finally completed and opened to the public in 1922.  On May 30, 1922, Former President and then Supreme Court Chief Justice William Howard Taft and Robert Todd Lincoln, the only surviving child of Lincoln’s four children, lead the monument’s dedication ceremony.

Over the years, the Lincoln Memorial has been the site of a number of famous events, including protests, concerts and speeches.  Perhaps the most famous of which occurred on August 28, 1963.  The Memorial’s grounds were the site of the “March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom,” which proved to be a high point of the American Civil Rights Movement.  It is estimated that over a quarter of a million people participated in the event.  It was then that Martin Luther King, Jr., delivered his historic “I Have a Dream” speech from the steps of the memorial.  The location where King delivered the speech is commemorated with an inscription carved into the steps.

Today, the Lincoln Memorial receives almost four million visitors per year.  Admission is free, and it is open to the public 24 hours a day, 7 days a week – except Christmas Day.  The memorial is administered by the National Park Service, and provides Park Service rangers on site from 9:30 am until 11:30 pm each day it is open to address questions about the Memorial.

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The Samuel Francis Du Pont Memorial Fountain at Dupont Circle

The Samuel Francis Du Pont Memorial Fountain at Dupont Circle

As a prologue, I should state that if in the following narrative you notice discrepancies in the spelling of the family name, it is because there is a lack of agreement on one correct way to spell it, even within the family.  For purposes of the traffic circle, the park, and the surrounding neighborhood, the city spells is Dupont.  Samuel himself used Du Pont.  And various family members go by Du Pont, du Pont, or duPont.  They all, however, refer to the same family.  With that out of the way, let’s move on to the memorial fountain.

In 1871, the Army Corps of Engineers began construction of a traffic circle, then named Pacific Circle, as called for in architect Pierre Charles L’Enfant’s design for the national capitol city.  It was constructed in northwest D.C. at the confluence of five streets – Massachusetts, Connecticut and New Hampshire Avenues, and P and 19th Streets (MAP).  Its name was changed to Dupont Circle approximately a decade later, when Congress renamed the circle and authorized the placement of a statue there in order to memorialize Rear Admiral Samuel Francis Du Pont, in recognition of his military service.

A statue of Samuel Du Pont was sculpted by Launt Thompson, and subsequently erected in the traffic circle in 1884.  The interior of the circle was also turned into a park, and landscaped with flowers and ornamental trees.  However, a number of members of the prominent Du Pont family thought that the statue was an insufficient tribute to their ancestor, and obtained permission to replace it with what they thought would be a more fitting memorial. This is thought to be the only instance in which a group managed to remove a statue from a location in D.C. and replace it with their version of a more proper monument.  The original statue was subsequently removed, and later erected in Rockford Park in Wilmington, Delaware, where it remains today.

The Du Pont family commissioned Henry Bacon and Daniel Chester French, the architect and sculptor of the Lincoln Memorial, to create a memorial to more fittingly capture the significance and stature of Samuel Du Pont.  The resulting memorial was a double-tiered white marble fountain, which features carvings on the fountain’s shaft of three allegorical nude figures symbolizing the arts of ocean navigation:  the sea; the stars, and; the wind.  The marble carving was executed by the renowned Piccirilli Brothers, who also sculpted the colossal Abraham Lincoln statue in the Lincoln Memorial, worked on the National Archives Building in D.C., and fashioned the Tomb of the Unknowns at Arlington National Cemetery.

Formally entitled The Samuel Francis Du Pont Memorial Fountain, the fountain includes an inscription which reads, “Samuel Francis Dupont – Rear Admiral, United States Navy, 1803-1865, This Memorial Fountain Replaces a Statue Erected by the Congress of the United States in Recognition of His Distinguished Services.”  It is owned by the National Park Service, and is a contributing monument to a group of statues entitled, “The Civil War Monuments in Washington, D.C.,” which are spread out through much of the central and northwest areas of the city.  They are listed as a group on the National Register of Historic Places.

The man memorialized by the fountain, Samuel Du Pont, began his long and illustrious naval career at an early age through his family’s close connections with President Thomas Jefferson, who helped secure him an appointment as a midshipman by President James Madison at the age of 12.  Ironically, by the time he became an officer he had begun to openly criticize many of his senior officers because he believed they had only received their commands through political influence and were incompetent.

Despite going on to eventually be in charge of the largest fleet ever commanded by an American officer at that time, the theme of political connections would continue to recur throughout his career.  As an enthusiastic supporter of naval reform, he oversaw the removal of over 200 naval officers.  But when those under fire called upon friends in Congress, Du Pont himself became the subject of heavy criticism, and a subsequent review of the dismissals resulted in the reinstatement of nearly half of those removed.  And near the end of his career, when he was removed from command as a result of being blamed for a significant defeat during the Civil War, Du Pont attempted to enlist the help of Congressman Henry Winter Davis, as well as garner the support of President Abraham Lincoln, in persuading the Navy to adopt his official report of the incident that led to his removal.  The Navy did not.

Despite intended as a memorial to his otherwise long and distinguished naval career, I find it also appropriate that the fountain that memorializes a military man so intrinsically involved in the political realm and patronage throughout his career is located in the city that is our nation’s hub for political influence.

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