Sculptors of Statehouse Statues: Emma Stebbins, Sylvia Shaw Judson, and Isabel McIlvain

For background and updates on my goal to post about women artists, click here.

Of the seven Massachusetts State House statues listed on the Public Art Walk, three are by women, each from a different generation. This prompts me to present them in time order, with basic facts, key links, and selected quotes.

Click on brick red text for links to information about statues and artists. Click on photos for full frames with captions and quotes.

First is Emma Stebbins (1815–1882).  Her statue of Horace Mann (1796 – 1859) was unveiled July 4, 1865.

Captions for the second, third and fourth photo are excerpts from description of the statue on the Public Art Walk site. For more about the art, relationships, personality, and choices of Emma Stebbins, read her Wikipedia biography and follow up with “The Public Career of Emma Stebbins: Work in Bronze” by Elizabeth Milroy, plus Smithsonian Archives of American Art: Emma Stebbins Scrapbook.

Next comes Sylvia Shaw Judson (1897–1978). Her statue, dated 1959, commemorates Mary Dyer (1611–1660), a Puritan turned Quaker, who was hanged on Boston Common for defying Puritan orders.

Captions for photos above are excerpts from description of the statue subject on the Public Art Walk site. Captions for photos below are excerpts from commentary about the artist in Lake Forest College Archives and Special Collections.

“Sylvia Judson sincerely believed that the visible outward form truly expresses the spirit within, and she applied this belief to her sculpture, to the way she lived and to the making of The Quiet Eye.” (quoted from forward by Alice Ryerson to reissue of  Judson’s book The Quiet Eye, A Way of Looking at Pictures first published in 1954.) 

Most recent is Isabel McIlvain (born 1943). Her statue of John F. Kennedy (1917-1963) was dedicated in 1990, on the 73rd anniversary of his birth.

Captions are excerpts from description of the JFK statue on the Public Art Walk site. For information about the artist, read a brief biography and view her sculpture.

Related Statehouse Statues From a facing view of the building, Daniel Webster is the right-hand match to Horace Mann, and Anne Hutchinson is the left-hand match for Mary Dyer. Refer to Public Art Walk information about Anne Hutchinson and Daniel Webster.

For more than a decade these two and other statues on the front lawn, blocked off from public access for security reasons, have been visible only from a distance. The Kennedy statue now has specific visiting hours that I haven’t signed for yet.

Of the statues noted here, the only one I have gotten close to is the one of Mary Dyer because it is outside the restricted front lawn. With each visit through a few seasons, I  have grown more fascinated with the life of the artist and her subject. The enforced physical distance from the others has left me still remote from their potentially promising stories. And that has left me pondering some purposes and possibilities of public art. Your responses will guide me toward clarity. Thank you!


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