Flushing Meadows Corona Park
The Rocket Thrower is a massive bronze sculpture designed by Donald De Lue (1897–1988) for the New York World’s Fair of 1964-65. The work is in keeping with one of the central themes of that fair - space exploration - and complements several other significant features in the park, such as the Court of Astronauts, Fountain of the Planets, Space Park and the Unisphere.
In 1961, The New York World’s Fair Corporation, under the direction of former Parks Commissioner Robert Moses (1888–1981), established a Committee on Sculpture to select artists whose work ranged “from contemporary conservative to the more conservative avant-garde.” The committee arrived at a short list of ten recommended modernist sculptors, many of whom displeased Moses and the fair’s chief designer Gilmore Clarke, whose tastes were more traditional. Ultimately, five sculptors - including Paul Manship, Marshall Fredericks, Theodore Roszak, Jose de Rivera, and De Lue - were commissioned to create pieces which would outlast the fair in the park.
De Lue, a late entry for consideration, had approached Moses independently of the committee’s review procedure. Born in Boston, Massachusetts, De Lue apprenticed under the English sculptor Brian Baker, and later studied art in England and France. A recipient of sculpture awards from the Architectural League, the National Sculpture Society and the National Institute of Arts and Letters, De Lue created numerous public monuments across the United States.
He designed the Rocket Thrower as a heroic, 43-foot high bronze figure hurling a rocket heavenward with his right hand, and reaching for a constellation of gilded stars with his left; this version was based on designs for the theme of “man conquering space,” which De Lue prepared in the late 1950s for the Union Carbide Building (270 Park Avenue, now occupied by Chase Bank offices). In 1962, De Lue was issued a contract to make the Rocket Thrower, and given less than six months to execute the work at a cost of $105,000. By June 1963, the full plaster model was done and shipped to Italy, where casting at the Fonda Artista in Via Reggio took almost a year. The sculpture was installed just prior to the fair’s opening on April 22, 1964.
Though one of the largest and most prominent sculpture commissions in America in 50 years, the critical reception was decidedly mixed. De Lue envisioned the Rocket Thrower as “the spiritual concept of man’s relationship to space and his venturesome spirit backed up by all the powers of his intelligence for the exploration of a new dimension.” However, The New York Times art reviewer John Canaday found the piece “the most lamentable monster, making Walt Disney look like Leonardo Da Vinci.” Robert Moses, attempting to bolster the artist’s fragile ego, consoled De Lue by remarking, “this is the greatest compliment you could have…[Canaday] hates everything that is good . . .”
Whatever the aesthetic response, the statue remains a fixture in the park nearly 40 years after the close of the fair. Over time, it has suffered from environmental corrosion and structural instability. An emergency repair was made to one arm in 1989, and additional funds for future care have been contributed by the Queens Heritage Association to the Municipal Art Society’s Adopt-A-Monument Program. As part of the renovations of the center of Flushing Meadows-Corona Park, funded by Queens Borough President Claire Shulman, a conservation analysis has recently been completed, and the statue now awaits additional support to finance its full restoration, and return it to its original glory.
Rocket Thrower Details
- Location: East of Unisphere, Hall of Astronauts
- Sculptor: Donald De Lue
- Description: Figure statue, heroic scale
- Materials: Bronze
- Dimensions: H: 42 ½'h (to grade)
- Foundry: Fonda Artista (Original); Modern Art Foundry, 1989 repair
- Donor: 1964 Worlds Fair
Directions to Flushing Meadows Corona Park
Know Before You Go
NYC Parks has removed slides in this park due to a manufacturer recall. The manufacture is currently working on an improved design and redesigned slides will be installed as soon as possible.
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