FALCONER ARTIST NAMED READING'S BEST
The creator of one of Central Park’s most beloved statues received posthumous recognition in his hometown of Reading, England last week. George Blackall-Simonds, sculptor of Central Park’s The Falconer, topped the "Great People of Reading" list, edging out notables such as Oscar Wilde and Edith Julia Morley.
Simonds was born in Reading in 1843 and studied sculpture in Germany and Belgium before living in Italy for 12 years. His Falconer was originally designed for Trieste, Italy, and shown at the Royal Academy. Parks & Recreation Director of Art and Antiquities Jonathan Kuhn states that a wealthy merchant born in Ireland who later lived in New York City, George Kemp, admired the sculpture so much that he commissioned a full-scale replica for Central Park, where it was dedicated on May 31, 1875. The bronze statue depicts a figure from Elizabethan times about to release a falcon from his hand.
The Reading Central Library system, a group of eight libraries in the Berkshire area of England, opened up voting to the general public. Robert Simonds, an eighth-generation descendant of the sculptor, organized a write-in campaign among relatives both here and in England. "The families are prolific on both sides of the ocean," he said, admitting that their enthusiasm may have helped the sculptor’s ranking. "We did some lobbying."
Kuhn also admits a special fondness for The Falconer’s proud stance and fascinating history. The statue fell into disrepair several times, receiving one new arm and two new birds over the years. It was last revitalized in 1995. Kuhn recently learned of a replica in Beverly, Massachussets—while reading a Time magazine interview with John Updike, he glanced at the writer’s photo and noticed a familiar figure in the background. He called the magazine and learned that Updike was born in Beverly. While no record of this replica exists in the Parks & Recreation archives, Kuhn estimates it was erected in 1905.
Beyond its rich history, Kuhn says, the statue "is one of the nicer pieces in the park, and one of the more popular spots during The Gates."
Simonds, an avid falconer himself, produced 44 sculptures in his lifetime (including a likeness of Queen Victoria in Reading and a monument of Raja Kali Krishna Bahadur in Calcutta), and was a central figure in the revival of the lost-wax process. He served as chairman of his family’s brewery in Reading before his death in 1929.
QUOTATION FOR THE DAY
"The caged bird sings
with a fearful trill
of things unknown
but longed for still"