Spring Semester 2000, Vol. 11, no. 1

The Statue of Liberty, Fredric Auguste Bartholdi

Introduction

For more than 100 years, the Statue of Liberty has been a universally recognized symbol of the United States and, perhaps more importantly, the principles of freedom and hope. Liberty, rising almost 300 feet above the harbor of New York City, is depicted as a heroic, classical woman carrying a tablet of law inscribed with the date of the American Declaration of Independence. Her crown of seven rays represents both the seven oceans and the seven continents. The broken shackles of oppression lie at her feet as she holds high the torch of freedom. The copper from which she is constructed has long been green as a result of the chemical effects of the wind, rain, and weather upon the metal.

Frederic-Auguste Bartholdi, one of the foremost sculptors in France at the time, is the designer of the colossal Statue of Liberty.  Though Bartholdi did sculpt the clay models, design the statue, find the site for the statue, and guide much of the construction, he could not have created it without the united efforts of many people, both French and American. 

The Origin of the Idea

At an 1865 dinner in France held by Edouard de Laboulaye, Laboulaye told Bartholdi about his idea of a monument to celebrate the friendship between France and the United States and symbolize the American dream of liberty.  Bartholdi had long dreamed of building a monumental sculpture and showed interest in Laboulaye?s idea.  As a result of this dinner, Laboulaye and some of his friends formed the French-American union to raise funds for the proposed statue.

In 1871, Bartholdi visited America. Upon entering New York harbor, he realized where he wanted to place his proposed sculpture.  He wanted to place his monument, a ?Gateway to America,? on Bedloe?s Island, a small island that offered the first view of the New World for passengers arriving by sea.  The island, at the time home only to an abandoned fort, would not dwarf the statue, whose gigantic size would be in keeping with its ideals.

Creating the Sculpture

When Bartholdi returned to France, he began a series of small clay models of ?his American,? called formally Liberty Enlightening the World.  He decided that he would use copper for his structure because cast bronze or stone would be both too expensive and too heavy.  He asked his former teacher, Viollet-le-Duc, to design the statue?s interior structure and skin attachment system.  Liberty would be the first statue in which one could climb up inside.  Many believe that Bartholdi used the face of his mother as the model for Liberty?s head and his wife for her arms.

After Bartholdi built 1/3-scale models, a group of artisans in Paris built full-size separate plaster sections of the statue.  More than 100,000 individual measurements were taken while building the separate sections.  Workers then shaped over 300 copper plates against the individual pieces.  This technique of creating sculptural forms by hammering sheet metal inside molds is called repousse. One section of the statue, the arm holding the torch, was sent to Philadelphia in 1876 for America?s 100-birthday celebration. The head of the statue was displayed at the World?s Fair in Paris in 1878 where visitors were able to climb inside for a small fee.  In 1879, le-Duc died, so Bartholdi asked fellow Frenchman Alexandre Gustave Eiffel (who would later design the Eiffel Tower) to replace le-Duc.

Completion and Dedication

Though many people in France and America helped raise funds for the statue, at times it was feared that a lack of money would prevent the statue from being constructed.  For example, in 1885, the statue was completed and packed in over 200 crates and shipped to America. Unfortunately, it remained stored in its crates until the summer of 1886, until the funds were raised to complete the pedestal base, designed by

American architect Richard Morris Hunt. Newspaper magnate Joseph Pulitzer helped in the effort to raise funds by printing the names of everyone who donated money to complete the statue, no matter how small the contribution. Liberty was finally unveiled in 1886 with speeches, songs, and fireworks. On January 1, 1892, nearby Ellis Island opened as an immigration station for America, emphasizing the Statue of Liberty as a symbol of both freedom and welcome.

Repairs have been made to the Statue of Liberty over the years, with the most significant restoration occurring from 1982-1986, the 100th year anniversary of the statue?s dedication. Tourists flock every day to take the ferry to the statue and then to her companion, Ellis Island.

 

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