For the art project Monument, Tracy Steen collaborated with Tom Lincoln to explore the meaning of monuments. Who among us is worthy of a monument? How can we best memorialize great actions and great people? Should monuments have an expiration date?
Dr. Steen and Mr. Lincoln photographed outdoor monuments in Philadelphia, Baltimore, Washington D.C., New York, and Boston. Because communities shift over time, some monuments now suffer from overcrowding or, worse, isolation. To keep the focus on the subjects of the monuments, Dr. Steen and Mr. Lincoln found angles that isolated the statues from the surroundings. Shooting only on overcast days, they photographed all of the monuments against the natural, neutral backdrop of a whitish grey sky.
Many of the monuments were created over the course of decades during the golden age of fine art sculpture from 1870 to 1914. Artists from Europe and the United States competed for both public and private commissions to create sculptures in stone and bronze. Monuments were built to last and were unveiled in places of prominence, forming permanent tributes to people and times worth remembering.
The first of these photographs were exhibited from July to September 2012 at Giant Steps Gallery in the Rittenhouse Square neighborhood of Philadelphia.
Click on the images on this page to view selected high-resolution photographs from the project.
Joan of Arc
Napoleon III commissioned this statue of Joan of Arc to help re-establish French confidence following defeats by the Prussian army in 1870. During the medieval clash for control of France known as the Hundred Years’ War, Joan of Arc was a hero to the forces of Charles VII of Valois. Inspired by saints, she rose from humble circumstances to lead an army against the other claimant to the French throne, Henry VI of England. Joan of Arc was martyred in 1431, but her victory at Orléans in 1429 had already turned the tide of the war in favor of the Valois dynasty.
This monument is an example of how public art can be successfully relocated and renovated. Emmanuel Fremmier created Joan of Arc in 1874, and in 1890 the Fairmount Park Art Association bought the statue ungilded. Joan of Arc was first placed at the east end of the Girard Avenue Bridge, but this location was not a success. In 1959, the statue was gilded and moved to its current location, across from the Philadelphia Museum of Art on Kelly Drive. Joan of Arc has been an inspiration in this location. The statue was removed to repair a crack in 2009, re-gilded, and returned in 2010.
Antoine-Louis Barye—known also for creating the lion statue in Rittenhouse Square in Philadelphia—designed Sitting Lion in 1846. It was commissioned by Louis-Philippe d’Orléans, “King of the French.” The original Sitting Lion is in Paris. Famed art collector William T. Walters donated this copy to the City of Baltimore in 1885.
The monument is a tribute to Louis-Philippe’s liberal revolution that overthrew the Bourbon monarchy. His reformist, constitutional July Monarchy came to power during a three-day revolution from July 27 to July 20, 1830. The lion references Leo, the sign of the zodiac that governs late July. The July Monarchy was itself overthrown in 1848 when a revolution ushered in the more liberal but short-lived Second Republic.
Sitting Lion is an example of a monument that has thrived over time. Located in a park outside the Walters family home in the Mount Vernon neighborhood of Baltimore, the monument has not been moved since it was unveiled in 1885. The nearby Walters Art Museum is filled with treasures, and the park around the statue is well landscaped and well traveled. By treating the statue with care, Baltimore honors itself, the Walters family, and the ideals of the artist.
The photograph was taken in April 2012 during a rainstorm. The lion’s dignified mien, impervious to the streams of water running down his face, seems an appropriate symbol of the monument’s resilience.
Tracy Steen is an artist and psychologist in Philadelphia. She received a Ph.D. in clinical psychology from the University of Michigan in 2003 and moved to Philadelphia to complete a postdoctoral fellowship in positive psychology at the University of Pennsylvania. She continued to work at the University of Pennsylvania as the Clinical Director and then Director of the Charles O'Brien Center for Addiction Treatment. A chapter about courage that she wrote for Character Strengths and Virtues influenced the early stages of the Monument project, but her main source of inspiration is her family’s tradition of military service.