Eleanor Roosevelt, 1992-1996

Artist
Penelope Jencks

Location
Northwest corner of the intersection of Riverside Drive and 72nd Street, at the entrance to Riverside Park.

Description
At the entrance to Riverside Park at 72nd Street and Riverside Drive, there is an elevated circle of ground, rising into a small hill, and planted with low bushes. In the middle of this circle is Eleanor Roosevelt, leaning comfortably against a rock, lost in thought. She is larger than life (about eight feet tall), and her presence is strong, but unimposing. There are three oak trees planted around her, one on each side and one behind. The presence of the trees makes the figure appear to be in a wooded area, although still clearly visible from the street.

The figure of Eleanor Roosevelt seems to be somewhere in between young and old. One reviewer has described this quality by saying "the body is clearly that of a younger Eleanor Roosevelt, while in the face is expressed the wisdom and compassion we know from her maturity" [1]. Roosevelt is calm, but contemplative, her brow slightly furrowed as she looks off into the distance. She rests her chin on her left hand, with her right arm folded across her body and her legs crossed. She is not posed for a picture or a public appearance—rather, Penelope Jencks has chosen a natural, everyday position for her figure, making Roosevelt accessible as a person instead of as a prominent international figure.

The circle of ground on which Eleanor Roosevelt stands is surrounded by sidewalk, making it easy to walk around the entire sculpture in its environment. There are also benches around the edges of the sidewalk, both next to and behind the sculpture, leaving the area in front open to the street.

On the sidewalk in front of the sculpture is a stone engraved with a quote from Eleanor Roosevelt: "Where, after all, do universal human rights begin? In small places, close to home. Such are the places where every man, woman and child seeks equal justice, equal opportunity, equal dignity.—Eleanor Roosevelt, 1958."

The commissioning and placement of Eleanore Roosevelt was part of larger project which included the re-landscaping of Riverside Park around 72nd Street, and the removal of an old entrance ramp to the West Side Highway. The cost of the entire project was shared by New York City, New York State, and the private Eleanor Roosevelt Monument Fund organization [2].

Possible discussion themes
How are women represented in New York's public sculpture?
There are plenty of images of women in New York's public sculpture, but very few of them are actually representing real people. There are many allegorical figures (for example, in the Statue of Liberty, The Four Continents, General William Tecumseh Sherman...). There are also general figures of women that represent people, but not one person in particular (for example, in The Immigrants). There are figures of female literary characters (Mother Goose and Alice in Wonderland). But compared to the number of statues of prominent male figures in New York City, there are very few sculptures of memorializing women—I have come across only four: Eleanor Roosevelt, Joan of Arc, Gertrude Stein, and Golda Meir.

How have the styles and ideas behind memorial sculptures changed over time?
There are many ways in which artists can create a sculpture that is a memorial of a particular person. Early memorials tended to idealize their subjects, placing them on high pedestals, out of reach, and above the viewer. More recent sculptors have chosen abstract images to represent a person, or figurative themes that represent some aspect of a person's character. Eleanor Roosevelt is a memorial that humanizes its subject. She wears everyday clothing; is placed on the ground, not separated from the world by a pedestal; and stands in a natural position.

Related art works
Joan of Arc.
Joan of Arc is another of the few sculptures memorializing women in New York City. Dating from 1915, the piece is idealistic and grand, showing Joan of Arc on horseback, her sword held high, ready for action.

General William Tecumseh Sherman.
The memorial to General William Tecumseh Sherman is highly idealized, plated in gold, with an allegorical figure representing victory striding ahead of the general's horse. A discussion comparing General William Tecumseh Sherman with Eleanor Roosevelt could address the way the artists chose to present their subjects, and how this affects the way the viewer relates to the sculptures.

Tightrope Walker.
This sculpture was created in memory of General William B. Donovan, but artist Kees Verkade did not produce a rendering of General Donovan's face. Instead, he designed a sculpture of two tightrope walkers, representing the courage and daring for which General Donovan had been known.

Footnotes

  1. Shahn, J. (Winter, 1997). Penelope Jencks' Eleanor Roosevelt memorial. Sculpture Review. vol. 45, p. 28-9.
  2. Martin, D. (Oct. 5, 1996). Ex-First Lady's latest first: Statue in New York City park; Eleanor Roosevelt honored in hometown today. The New York Times. sec. 1, p. 25, col. 3.
 

 
 
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