Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Bethesda Fountain, Central Park

My 12 year old niece, Katie, came to visit for the day yesterday. We spent the afternoon walking through Central Park hitting all the major landmarks: Belvedere Castle, the Bow Bridge, Literary Walk, etc. One sight I made certain we get to see was the Bethesda Fountain, not because it is one of the most recognizable landmarks associated with Central Park, but because of the role it plays in women's history.

Bethesda Fountain was sculpted by Emma Stebbins and unveiled in 1873. It was the only sculpture commissioned by Vaux and Olmstead, the architects of Central Park, to be part of the original park design. This makes Stebbins the first woman ever to receive a commission for a major work in New York City. Bethesda Fountain also goes by the name "Angel of the Waters" and commemorates the completion of the Croton Aqueduct in 1842 which brought fresh, clean water to New Yorkers for the first time.

Not surprisingly Stebbins' sculpture received harsh criticism from the mostly male art critics of the day which reflect more their chauvinistic Victorian attitudes than any insightful criticism of the piece. The best critic is perhaps time, however. Bethesda Fountain remains one of the best loved landmarks not only in Central Park, but in all of New York City.

Below are some shots taken in the park yesterday of Bethesda Fountain. The first one is of my niece Katie perched beneath Stebbins' famous work.


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