In the Bronx, a face lost in time


The glory may be fleeting to each of us, but in the case of Louis J. Heintz, a formerly celebrated street commissioner in New York, injuries have added to the insult to growing ambiguity. In the decades after the memorial was dedicated to Heintz in a park in the Bronx in 1909, a charming bronze allegorical figure of fame emerged, which adorned the monument, was repeatedly broken and repaired only now.

The flexible female statue originally stood on the steps of the memorial and reached up to inscribe noble words on the granite pedestal on which stood the statue of Heintz. In 1935, the palm fan carried by Fame was released and removed by the city government, saying that “this facilitated the prey of the vandals.”

In 1971, Fame was attacked with her bronze pen. And later, when she noticed her business in Joyce Kilmer Park, she suffered other sufficient damage, which was removed for her safety. But in 1980, when the statue was in a city warehouse at Rice Memorial Stadium in the Bronx, thieves broke in and forcibly cut off her head, arms and legs.

Now Heintz’s fame is finally restored. But the project turned out to be unusually complicated, because no one knows what the headless figure’s face looked like. Because the figure faced the base of the monument, all known photographs show fame only from behind. And it turned out that the Public Design Commission, a city agency with authority over art on city lands, has a different concept of fame than John Saunders, an artist tasked with actually shaping clay with his hands to carve a new head.

Mr. Saunders initially created a slender, elegant face based on the face of an angel, which he had previously created for a private client. However, the Commission felt that it looked too modern. The sculptor adjusted his facial features in response to two rounds of feedback, and now, unfortunately, the head of fame is “in this transitional phase, where I don’t like it very much,” said Mr. Saunders, monument care manager since 2007. “he said -” a sense of spirit that can leave people inspired and uplifted. “

Heintz, a wealthy German-American, started at his uncle’s Bronx Brewery, made good sense to marry the daughter of a millionaire brewer, and in 1890 was elected the first commissioner of street improvements for the 23rd and 24th boroughs of New York City, part of the Bronx. which was annexed to the city in 1874. Before dying of pneumonia in 1893, Heintz helped set in motion the construction of a large public space, a large boulevard built on top of a ridge leading from north to south across the borough.

The man who created the sculpture for the Heintz Memorial was the French sculptor Pierre Feitu, a member of the Salon Société Nationale des Beaux-Arts in Paris, who later created the sculptures for the French memorial to the sculptor Augusta Saint-Gaudens in New York.

At the opening of a large public space in 1909, dignitaries gave speeches from the steps of the Heintz Memorial. For the current renovation, the restorers made a plaster cast of these stairs and the lower part of the pedestal, which they placed in the Parks Department workshop under the Brooklyn War Memorial in Cadman Plaza Park. Then they moved Fame’s several hundred thousand hulls with a small crane to determine the appropriate orientation of the statue.

“He had no arms or legs, it was just this floating piece, so attaching it to the cast was the biggest challenge,” Mr Saunders said. “If she leans back, it will look awful, as if she were a little drunk as she wrote these words.”

Feitu was carved by Fame as an energetic woman about two feet tall, which allowed Mr. Saunders to use Mr. Saunders’ own arms to determine the correct extent. He created a cast of the arm of a female intern, Odette Blaisdell, for reference in creating a suitably feminine form. The arms and legs he modeled in clay were then cast in bronze at the Bedi-Makky art foundry in Brooklyn’s Greenpoint.

Jonathan Kuhn, director of arts and antiques in the parks department, said that when he came to work in 1995, about a dozen damaged statues withered. As part of the City Conservation Program, which was established in 1997 as a public-private partnership, all but fame have since been repaired and re-exhibited. The bronze lioness went home with her cubs to Prospect Park Zoo. A World War I gunman whose helmet was killed and his bayonet was stolen was released back to Macombs Dam Park. And the discarder, who was forcibly attacked, underwent major surgery and was returned to Randalls Island Park.

The disc thrower “lacked a disc and private parts,” Mr. Kuhn said. “We found the plaster form of his penis in our storage mix and we were able to very faithfully rework it along with his arm and disc.”

Showing a face to fame proved to be a special challenge.

“We try to direct the aesthetics of that time so that the finished version resembles the work of the original artist as much as possible,” and evokes the aesthetics of the early 20th century, “Kuhn said. “There’s no perfection because we don’t know what it looked like.”

For reference, photographs of other statues were compiled for Feitu, but Mr. Saunders found them with limited help. The allegorical figures were in a “completely different style,” he said, while the portrait breasts of a middle-aged woman “were not necessarily very eloquent, because portraiture is a completely different animal than allegorical figures.”

His preferred approach was to “try to do something beautiful on your own in the spirit of Feit and be done with it,” he said. But members of the Conservative Advisory Group on Design Conservation – two art historians and a conservator – he wanted a change of face he was sculpting.

The group “noticed the beauty and skills of John Saunders’ work, but felt that the face looked very modern,” wrote Commission Executive Director Keri Butler in an e-mail. Members suggested referring to Feitu’s other work “and similar works of art of the time and style,” she added, “and members recommended that the restored face be fuller, with a straighter nose and thinner lips, consistent with typical allegorical sculptures of the early 20th century. “

Mr Saunders complied, but said that carrying out such specific instructions was like working as a sketch for the police.

“You know how those drawings may look like the man, but they’re so modest about themselves that they don’t really look like a full portrait?” he said. “I think the head accepted this quality a little.”

Ms Butler said the evaluation committee proposal was a “team effort” resulting from “dialogue with the parks department and other stakeholders and was not prescriptive.” And Mr Kuhn from the parks department said his agency agreed with the committee’s proposals.

However, Mr Saunders sounded limited by the specificity of the management.

“There is a process of control and there are people in the chain who are above me who will ultimately decide what will be done,” he said, adding, “because of the way it works, I’m kind. I had to divorce a bit with my aesthetics and be like, “Okay, okay, I’m just a tool. You say what you want, and then I’ll do it.”

However, restoration is still work in progress. When the coronavirus hit last spring, Mr Saunders began working from home. To do so, he drove to Connecticut with an unfinished Fame clay head in the passenger seat next to him, secured by a seat belt.

One day a few weeks ago, he drove the overworked head back to the Brooklyn workshop to connect it to the reassembled Fame bronze body. For the first time, the bronze castings of the statue’s arm and leg, shiny like a new penny, were attached to a weathered green hull. And even though it was still a mosaic figure of disparate parts, it was already possible to recognize significant mobility.

Mr. Saunders climbed the ladder, and the metal rod protruding from Fame’s neck made a creaking sound as he turned his clay head onto his bronze neck. He stepped back and stared blankly at the meeting.

Did the new head lack a spirit, as Mr. Saunders believed?

“I think he’s improving some details,” Mr. Kuhn said. “I’m looking at a slight nose adjustment.”

The next steps, once the head is completed, will be to form a rubber mold from it and form a plaster cast from this mold. At the Greenpoint foundry, the casting will be pressed into the sand, creating a negative impression given to the molten bronze. The finished product will be a bronze version of the head, which Mr. Saunders modeled in clay.

Then a bronze head and accessories will be welded in place, and Mr. Saunders will give the whole figure a uniform patina that will match the statue of Heintz.

“He’s a perfectionist,” Mr. Kuhn said of Mr. Saunders. “It’s a good thing to fix it and satisfy him, as do other commentators.”

Finally, sometime this year, the allegorical figure is expected to reunite with Heintz in the Bronx, after more than 40 years of separation. Originally, only one dowel was attached to the base, so the plan is to provide more safety by reattaching to three points. With a little luck, this time Heintz will keep his fame intact.

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