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Tuesday, March 16, 2010

An American Sculptor: Evelyn Beatrice Longman

In a recent article in American Art, Ellen Wiley Todd identifies the artist of the formerly unattributed Triangle Fire Memorial to the Unknown in Evergreens Cemetery, Brooklyn, as Evelyn Beatrice Longman (1874-1954). The memorial honors seven unidentified women who died in the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire in New York City in 1911. Todd notes that the memorial is neither mentioned in Longman's records nor was it mentioned in the press. One reason might be that Longman was a woman competing in a field dominated by men, and wanted to remain out of the controversy of the fire, which was considered a women's issue.

"We know from family members," writes Todd, "that Longman, in her desire to be recognized as a sculptor rather than as a woman sculptor, avoided all gender politics, maintaining an ideal of professionalism throughout her long career. She never publicly campaigned for suffrage or revealed her preferences even in private correspondence. She never affiliated herself with women-centered organizations or advocated for the many progressive-era causes related to social justice and immigration that surrounded her in New York."

She continues, "Longman found her way up a social and professional ladder precisely by exercising moderate, gracious, dignified behavior rather than by espousing any positions, such as the cause of working women, that would endanger her own status."

Evelyn Beatrice Longman was the first woman sculptor to be admited to the National Academy of Design and the only woman assistant to renowned sculptor Daniel Chester French (1850-1931), whom she assisted on the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C. During her career, Longman sculpted allegorical figures, commissioned portraits, medals, relief plaques, fountains, and large monuments, including Electricity (also titled: Genius of Electricity, Golden Boy, and Spirit of Communication), a 30-foot sculpture of a winged male standing on ball who holds three lighting bolts. The sculpture came to be known as the symbol for AT&T as it stood atop their 29 story building on Broadway in New York City, and later moved with the company to Madison Avenue, New Jersey, and then Dallas, Texas. The image of the scultpure was featured on their telephone directories for 20-30 years.

"What distinguished Longman," writes Margaret Samu, a Longman scholar, "was her commitment to monumental public sculpture, an arena usually occupied by men. Although some women of Longman's generation created large-scale works, she was the first who built her career on that basis."

Monuments by Longman can be found in Avon, CT; Hartford, CT; Windsor, CT; Wellesley, MA; Annapolis, MD; Middleburgh, NY; Des Moines, IA; and Chicago, IL. For more information, search the Inventory of American Sculpture.

The American Art Museum's Photograph Archives contain many photographs of Longman's sculptures. The Art Inventories list Longman's sculptures in private and public collections across the country.

For more information on Longman's Triangle Fire Memorial to the Unknown:
Todd, Ellen Wiley. "Remembering the Unknowns: The Longman Memorial and the 1911 Triangle Shirtwaist Fire." American Art 23.3 (Fall 2009): pg. 60-80.

For more information on Longman:
Samu, Margaret. "Evelyn Beatrice Longman: Establishing a Career in Public Sculpture." Woman's Art Journal 25.2 (Autumn 2004-Winter 2005): pg. 8-15.

Pictured is Model for Electricity, photographed by A. B. Bogart. American Sculpture Photograph Study Collection, Photograph Archives, American Art Museum, S0001486.

Nicole Semenchuk, Research & Scholars Center, Smithsonian American Art Museum

1 comment:

  1. What a fascinating sculptor. I love the live electrical wire in this sculpture. If only I could control all of my gadgets' cords so artistically!