Their work is all around us, but we rarely stop to study it, to truly pay attention to the spectacular art that is part of our city landscape.
And even when we do, how much do you know about it?
Frank Hayden’s dynamic sculpture of Oliver Pollock has anchored a downtown plaza for years. But do you know who is this Oliver Pollock?
That’s what the new exhibit at the Louisiana Art & Science Museum is all about. In “Monuments & Metaphors: Art in Public Spaces,” the museum turns the spotlight on 50 of the best-known public artworks in the Baton Rouge area and uncovers the stories behind them.
Pollock was an agent of the Continental Congress stationed in New Orleans at the end of the American Revolution. He served as Bernardo de Gálvez’s aide-de-camp during the Spanish campaign against the British in 1779, and is credited with inventing the dollar sign.
“The story is Oliver Pollock brought nine Americans with him to Louisiana,” says Elizabeth Weinstein, the museum’s curator. “Frank Hayden submitted numerous designs for the sculpture. We have two of his maquettes (scale models) for the other designs in the show.
“The nine Americans are portrayed in each design,” Weinstein explains. “In the piece that’s chosen, the nine can be seen in the area beside his face.”
Hayden’s sculpture was commissioned by the city of Baton Rouge, which ultimately chose the 10-foot bronze design stationed in the Bernardo de Gálvez Plaza.
Weinstein divided the exhibit into two parts. Hayden’s work is joined by that of Louisiana sculptor Angela Gregory, Croatian sculptor Ivan Mestrovic and New York-born artist Conrad Albrizio in the downstairs gallery. Highlighted in the upstairs gallery are contemporary artists’ works commissioned through the Louisiana Division of the Arts’ Percent for Art program, the Museum of Public Art and The Walls Project.
And throughout the show are unexpected stories.
For example, there’s the connection between sculptor Gregory and Auguste Rodin. Yes, “The Thinker.”
Gregory’s work includes the bas relief for the State Capitol and the statue of Henry Watkins Allen outside the West Baton Rouge Parish Courthouse.
The story is in that metal contraption enclosed in glass, ready to measure the dimensions of a plaster face of Capt. Robert Estaby, sculpted by Gregory.
The contraption once belonged to Rodin. He passed it to his protege, Antoine Bourdelle, who taught Gregory how to carve stone in his Paris studio. Bourdelle gave it to Gregory the year before his death. She called it her “pointing machine,” and used it in the creation of her sculptures, including the one of Allen. A scale model sits on a pedestal at the opposite side of the gallery.
Also included in the exhibit is Brad Bourgoyne’s digital clay model of Enrique Alferez’s 1939 aluminum relief “Louisiana At Work and Play.”
The Mexico-born Alferez was one of the New Orleans artists who created works for the Works Progress Administration in the 1930s. His sculptures can be found throughout New Orleans and south Louisiana.
Alferez was commissioned by the state to make a decorative architectural piece for the entrance of Charity Hospital in New Orleans. The architects who designed the hospital also designed the Louisiana State Capitol and Governor’s Mansion.
The 20-story hospital was the second largest in the United States, and now that it’s closed, the fate of Alferez’s artwork is in question.
“It can’t be removed from the building,” Weinstein says. “They’ve tried.”
So, Bourgoyne, a Baton Rouge sculptor, made an exact digital image of the piece using a vertical lift and portable 3-D scanner. He reduced the size, carved a model in foam with a computer-controlled router, then detailed it by hand to make the mold.
The subsequent bronze cast will be installed in LSU’s new Medical Education and Innovation Center.
“So, though we don’t know what will happen to Alferez’s original work if Charity Hospital is torn down, we have this exact model of his piece in Baton Rouge,” Weinstein says.
Joining Alferez’s artwork in this migration from New Orleans to Baton Rouge is that of fellow WPA artist Conrad Albrizio. Albrizio was teaching at LSU when he designed his 1955 mosaic, “Elements of Government,” to cover the bullet holes in the wall where Huey Long was shot in the State Capitol.
“But Earl K. Long was governor at the time, and he thought the wall should remain uncovered as a testament of what happened there,” Weinstein says.
Albrizio’s mosaic moved to New Orleans, where it hung in the Louisiana Supreme Court Building until Hurricane Katrina in 2005. Both the building and mosaic were damaged. The mosaic has since been restored and moved to the 19th Judicial District Court Building in Baton Rouge. A photo of the mosaic is accompanied by Albrizio’s drawings for the piece, all revealing yet another story behind Baton Rouge’s public artwork.