Union Square Park

July 4th Marks 150th Anniversary of the Dedication Of Union Square’s George Washington Monument

Monday, July 3, 2006
No. 54

On July 4, 2006 we celebrate the sesquicentennial of the oldest existing sculpture in a New York City park- the equestrian sculpture of George Washington, located on Union Square Park’s southern plaza. Dedicated on July 4, 1856, the monument was modeled by Henry Kirke Brown at his Brooklyn studio, with assistance from John Quincy Adams Ward, and cast at the Ames Foundry at Chicopee, Massachusetts. It was only the second equestrian statue cast in the United States. Brown chose to depict Washington at the moment of British evacuation during the Revolutionary War, and chose to combine a classical pose evoking the ancient Roman Marcus Aurelius sculpture with naturalistic features of both the horse and rider. The sculpture is of bronze, and sits on an elaborate pedestal of Quincy granite.

The George Washington monument set a precedent in the City, paving the way for numerous public artworks, often commemorative, which have originated through citizen action and been commissioned through private contributions. Sixty-eight major donors, mostly prominent merchants in the vicinity of Union Square each contributed $500, and 45 lesser donors gave amounts between $20 and $300, for the creation and installation of the George Washington monument.

Parks & Recreation boasts a collection of 1,100 permanent art and monument sites throughout the City, including 300 major sculptures. Many commemorate people and events significant in the life of the city, nation and world, while others are symbolic, decorative or abstract. Some recent examples of commemorative art have included tributes to author Ralph Ellison, composer Antonin Dvorak, and humanitarians Mahatma Gandhi, Benito Juarez, and Eleanor Roosevelt. Artworks such as Tony Rosenthal’s Alamo (the Cube) at Astor Place, Rafael Ferrer’s Puerto Rican Sun at Fox Street in the South Bronx, and George Segal’s Gay Liberation reflect evolving styles of artistic expression as well as social change."The 150th anniversary of the George Washington monument is significant not only for what it commemorates historically, but for its role in introducing art in the public realm of New York City," said Parks & Recreation Commissioner Adrian Benepe. "The Monument instituted the idea of community involvement and campaigning in the establishment of public art in this City."During the 1929-30 renovation of the Park, the George Washington Monument was relocated from a fenced traffic island at the southeast corner of the Park to its current, more central position of prominence. After the attacks of September 11, 2001, the citizenry mourned here.

The sculpture was conserved in 1988 through the Adopt-A-Monument Program, and was again conserved in 2004 by Parks’ Citywide Monuments Conservation Program--a privately-financed initiative, now in its tenth year, that seeks to preserve and maintain the art and monuments throughout the parks system. This year the program’s major supporters are the History Channel and the Samuel H. Kress Foundation. A separate endowment provides dedicated support for the care of the George Washington sculpture.

Today, July 3, a commemorative wreath was placed on the head of the George Washington monument during a celebration to recognize this sesquicentennial anniversary of New York’s oldest public artwork.

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