This text is part of Parks’ Historical Signs Project and can be found posted within the park.This sculpture bust of City Comptroller, W. Arthur Cunningham (1894-1934) is by Emil Sieburn (1888-1942). The subject was a rising star in the political realm of the New York City, whose life was cut tragically short.
Born in Manhattan, Cunningham was raised in Brooklyn, where he attended St. James’s Academy. He received his L.L.B. degree from Fordham Law School in 1915, but postponed his legal career to serve his country in World War I. Cunningham distinguished himself in combat as a major in the 69th (later 165th) Regiment, A.E.F. He served as counsel and later vice president to the Textile Banking Corporation until 1933, when he was elected City Comptroller on Mayor LaGuardia’s fusion ticket. Cunningham died suddenly of a heart attack while horseback riding on Long Island on May 5, 1934.
Hillside Park in Queens was renamed for Cunningham in 1934, and Mayor Fiorello H. LaGuardia (1882-1947) dedicated the plaza at the park’s center in Cunningham’s memory in1936. That year marked the completion of work by the Works Progress Administration and the Parks Department to develop the southern part of the park.
At the time of Cunningham’s death, Emil Siebern was already at work on the portrait bust, and he completed the sculpture based on photographs of his subject. Siebern, a Greenwich Village-based artist also created two massive stainless-steel sculptures which once stood in Astoria Park Pool. In addition to his artistic output, Siebern helped establish the outdoor art collection of the estate of John D.Rockefeller (1839-1937), known as Pocantico Hills, and was for five years its superintendent.
The bronze bust of Cunningham was dedicated in 1941, and was installed on a granite pedestal which remains in the park. Not long after the dedication, in an act recalling painter Vincent Van Gogh’s self-mutilation, a vandal severed one ear of Cunningham bust. Though the Parks Monuments Crew fashioned and reattached a replacement, Cunningham’s widow is said to have been so shaken by the incident that she asked that the sculpture not be returned to its public setting. As a result, Siebern’s portrait of Cunningham was consigned to storage for more than 60 years.
Today the sculpture is temporarily displayed in the conference room of the Forest Park Overlook--the headquarters of the Queens Parks Department--and funds are sought to reunite the statue with its base, to restore the original pedestal (or design a new one), and return this commemorative artwork to its rightful place in the park of its namesake.
Arthur Cunningham Details
- Sculptor: Emil Siebern
- Description: Bust
- Materials: Bronze
- Dimensions: Pedestal H: 8'6" W: 6' D: 2'
- Cast: 1941
- Dedicated: 1941
- Inscription: W. ARTHUR CUNNINGHAM
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