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What was the first monument in honour of a woman accomplished by a woman?

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In both the United States and Canada, the transformation from memorializing women in a representational and collective sense to that of identifiable women did not take place until the early 20th century. Considered one of the earliest and best known examples of this metamorphosis is the equestrian statue of 'Joan of Arc' that was conceived and created by American sculptor, Anna Vaughn Hyatt (10 March 1876 - 4 October 1973). Born in Cambridge, Massachusetts, her interests and talents were drawn and influenced by her father, a professor of zoology at Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Boston University, as well as her mother, an amateur landscape artist. At the age of 47, she married the railroad heir and philanthropist Archer Milton Huntington (1870 - 1955) in 1923 and became one of the most prolific American artists and sculptors of the 20th century. Recognized as one of America's finest animaliers, her works helped bridge the gap between the traditional styles of the 1800s and the abstract styles of the mid-20th century. She, along with her husband, helped found nearly 20 museums and wildlife preserves, including Brookgreen Gardens in South Carolina - America's first and largest figurative sculpture garden that is a National Historic Landmark.

Anna Hyatt's fascination of the animal world combined with informal self-directed education led to her first exhibition at the Boston Arts Club in 1900, at the age of 24. As was a common practice among American artists, she travelled and worked in France and Italy for a period of three years, beginning in 1906. While in Paris, she was inspired by the 19th century revival of interest in Joan of Arc and was determined to apply her dedication to craftsmanship and her love and knowledge of horses to create her first monumental sculpture, 'Joan of Arc'. Meticulous in her research, she had visited sites in France associated with Joan of Arc's life. In 1909, the year Joan of Arc was beatified, she created her first modeling of the saint and the following year submitted her life-sized plaster statue to the Paris Salon where it garnered an honourable mention. While Hyatt was still in France, admirers of "The Maid of Orléans" in New York formed a committee to raise funds to erect a statue in Riverside Park commemorating the 500th anniversary of her birth. A competition was held and Hyatt's submission was the winning design. The completion of the monument aroused great public interest and the statue was unveiled on 6 December 1915 in an elaborate ceremony, which included a military band and French Ambassador Jean Jules Jusserand (1855 - 1932). Mrs. Thomas Alva Edison (1865 - 1947) was among the dignitaries selected to pull the cord that released the shroud. Hyatt's life-sized statue dedicated to the saint accurately replicated period armour and battle equipment just moments before Joan of Arc's first battle. Her ability to illustrate accurate historical relationships is demonstrated when she included stones in the statue's foundation from the Rouen dungeon where Joan of Arc had been imprisoned and included a fragment of a pilaster from the Cathedral of Notre-Dame of Reims, scene of Charles VII coronation, was worked into the pedestal. This is considered the pinnacle of Joan of Arc's career when she witnessed the crowning of the King of France on 17 July 1429 at the Cathedral. With the arrival of Anna Hyatt Huntington’s statue of Joan of Arc in New York city (America's largest city at the time), it became the first monument in honour of a women accomplished by a women. The completion of this heroic task brought her enormous success and secured her reputation as an international artist. Honours and recognition followed. In 1922, she was awarded the Légion d'honneur at the rank of Chevalier by the Government of France as well as became an honorary citizen of the city of Blois, France where a bronze replica of the statue was erected. Other replicas stand in Gloucester, Massachusetts (1921), San Francisco, California (1922) and Québec, Canada (see photograph). The Huntingtons visited Québec City in the 1930s and were so taken by the historic charm of this old walled city that in 1937, they offered the National Battlefields Commission a copy of the 'Joan of Arc' equestrian statue. Unveiled a year later, this eclectic memorial became the centre piece of the 'Joan of Arc Garden' - a 'sunken garden', which included some two hundred plant species with shrubs and a row of stately American elms, designed by landscape architect Louis Perron. This was a fitting everlasting tribute "...BY TWO ANONYMOUS DONORS AS AN EMBLEM OF THE PATRIOTISM AND VALOR OF THE HEROES OF 1759 AND 1760," at the time of the war between France and England on Canadian soil.

On this day, 10 March 2022, we commemorate the 146th anniversary of the birth of American sculptor Anna Hyatt Huttington and mark more than 107 years since the erection of her monumental equestrian sculpture of Joan of Arc in New York.

André M. Levesque

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