As long as we are talking about tall structures, one of the more interesting exhibits at the Fair was the hand holding the torch for the planned Statue of Liberty that France’s new Third Republic was constructing as a gift from the French people (at least from those who supported the Third Republic: if there had been no Franco-Prussian War meaning Napoléon III would have remained in power, there would not have been a Statue of Liberty…) to the people of the U.S. to mark the centennial anniversary of the signing of the Declaration of Independence.
Following the overthrow of Napoléon III’s Second Empire and the restoration of peace after the defeat of the Paris Commune, liberal republican Édouard-René Lefebvre de Laboulaye had broached the idea of a monumental statue to sculptor Frédéric-Auguste Bartholdi in June 1871, as an effort to influence French opinion in favor of republicanism, as the issue of France’s post-Commune government was still very much up in the air at this time. In fact, it took over four years to resolve, but finally in early 1875, a new French constitution had been narrowly approved and the Third Republic had been conceived. With political support for the statue project thus assured, de Laboulaye and Bartholdi had finalized the statue’s design and begun construction in November 1875.
Due to the planned size of the statue, Bartholdi needed engineering experience that he found in Eugène Emmanuel Viollet-le-Duc, France’s premiere structural theorist whose construction experience would have been essential for the design of such a large structure. Viollet-le-Duc had been the engineer for an earlier large sculpture, the 35′ high statue of Vercingétorix, the last of the Gaulic leaders to face Julius Caesar in battle. Designed by sculptor Aimé Millet in 1865 at the commission of Napoleon III, it is located at Alise-Sainte-Reine, the supposed site of the battle of Alesia, facing menacingly towards Germany. The monument’s small size, relative to that of the planned Statue of Liberty, however, had still permitted it to be constructed in a very traditional manner with loadbearing masonry.
We have seen that Viollet-le-Duc had revised his opinion of iron construction about the same time he was commissioned to design this statue, so that when he was asked by Bartholdi to collaborate on the design of the Statue of Liberty, he envisioned a structure similar to the smaller statue, based on mass to resist the forces from the wind. Instead of a traditional masonry structure, however, he had proposed that the statue’s exterior be made with copper plates that would be supported from a core in the interior comprised of an iron framework that contained a “system of interior compartments… filled with sand.” His reasoning for this type of structure was logical. In the case of an accident, he believed that a masonry structure would more than likely require some demolition, whereas, with the sand-filled coffers a valve could be opened to remove the sand in order to make the appropriate repairs and then simply be refilled.
Even though there was no way the statue could be complete for July 4 of the coming year, Bartholdi appreciated the fundraising potential of exhibiting at the 1876 Fair even a completed portion of the statue, if for nothing else then to raise awareness of the project, and began fabrication of the hand that was holding the torch, as a manageable piece that could be shipped across the ocean and would also give a sense of the statue’s true scale. By the time this piece was finished and shipped across the Atlantic, it was August before anyone could climb the stairs inside so as to imagine what the view from the torch would someday be. After the Fair closed, the hand and the torch was moved to its intended home, New York, and re-erected in Madison Square Park as an attempt to encourage the city’s citizens to give money to pay for the statue’s pedestal, which the American’s were obliged by the gift to design, pay for, and erect. Bartholdi then moved on to fabricate the statue’s head so that it could be on display during the Paris 1878 World’s Fair for similar reasons. Meanwhile, Viollet-le-Duc died on September 17, 1879, leaving Bartholdi in search of an engineer who had the comparable knowledge and experience in the erection of large structures to help him complete the project. Such a person he would find in Gustave Eiffel.
5.7 CHARLES STILLÉ’S CALL FOR “AMERICAN” CULTURE: A PHILADELPHIA SCHOOL?
At about the same time in 1866 that Prof. Campbell had suggested to Philadelphia’s mayor about the possibility of a World’s Fair, another Professor, Charles Janeway Stillé began teaching at the University of Pennsylvania. Stillé was a native son who had graduated from Yale before serving in the U.S. Sanitary Commission during the war. After the war he returned to his hometown as a Professor at Penn, and two years later was named its Provost in 1868. From this position he launched a campaign for the U.S. to develop a truly “American” culture. He used the University’s magazine, The Penn Monthly, to promote his cause by publishing essays on the arts by leading scholars and lecturers. One such lecturer was the Rev. William Henry Furness, a Unitarian minister who was a strident abolitionist and a Harvard School of Divinity graduate of many interests, including architecture. Born in Boston, the early center of American Unitarianism, Furness had been the best friend of Ralph Waldo Emerson ever since the two of them had entered Boston’s Latin School together when the two had begun to share their insights into life and the arts (see Chap. 2).
In fact, the Rev. Furness had been the keynote speaker at the Fourth Annual 1870 AIA convention in 1870 in Philadelphia. While the Furness family had been in possession of a copy of Ruskin’s Seven Lamps of Architecture since 1849, the year it was published, Furness had kept true to his belief in independence of thought in his November 1870 speech, “The Architect an Artist,” in which he contradicted the great English theorist’s opposition to the use of iron in architecture when he had beseeched his audience to develop “the ‘new orders of architecture,’ which ‘universal liberty’… demanded of them in the same degree that ‘we require new styles of building fitted to’ the use of iron.” Stillé had published Furness’ speech in the June 1871 edition of The Penn Monthly.
Stillé also managed to invite British industrial designer and theoretician Christopher Dresser, a former colleague of Owen Jones at the South Kensington School and a member of Britain’s design reform movement to give a series of lectures on modern industrial design during the Fair during a stop he had made on his way to study the art of Japan. Dresser had published his book, Principles of Decorative Design in 1873 in which he had laid out the ideas that would eventually coalesce into the Arts and Crafts movement. Dresser gave his lectures at the Pennsylvania Museum School and Stillé saw to their publication in his magazine as well.
Lewis, Michael J. Frank Furness: Architecture and the Violent Mind. New York: Norton, 2001.
O’Gorman, James F. The Architecture of Frank Furness. Philadelphia: Philadelphia Museum of Art, 1973.
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