Irish Memorial | Vietnam Memorial
Glenna with the Irish Memorial bronze at the foundry, 2002.
Photo by Marcia Ward, Image Maker
To commemorate the 150th Anniversary of the Great Hunger, a committee of prominent Philadelphians from business, government, and the arts have commissioned a monument to the Irish who perished and to those who survived - immeasurably enriching the history and culture of the Unites States. This monument is called the Irish Memorial.
The Great Hunger was a tragedy what led to the single greatest loss of life in Europe between the Napoleonic Wars and World War I. The Irish potato famine began in 1845 and affected other European countries. But in Ireland, the crisis took place in an economic, political, and social framework that was oppressive and unjust. Ireland and her people endured a disproportionate share of suffering. When the blight struck, 75 percent of Ireland's tillable land was devoted to growing grains, such as barley, corn, oats, and wheat, almost all of which was exported. Likewise, the cattle, pigs, and sheep were not eaten by the Irish but sent to Great Britain. All of this food was sufficient to feed the Irish people several times over. Because of the mandatory exporting, as well as 1847 British legislation that facilitated eviction of Irish tenants and their landlords, a million Irish starved to death, and another million were forced to flee Ireland. This amounted to the loss of almost a quarter of that country's population.
The Irish Memorial.
Photo by Marcia Ward, Image Maker
Irish immigrated to the British Isles, Australia, Canada, the United States, and elsewhere. The overwhelming immigration was to North America. Those who managed to survive the "coffin ships" bound for North America did not receive a warm welcome. They became America's urban poor and were quickly identified with disease, alcohol abuse, and crime. However, these entry-level laborers helped build railroads, dig canals, mine coal, and foster growth of cities, states, and the nation. Many Irish went on to make significant contributions in the fields of business, education, industry, government, medicine, science, religion, and the arts. Today, more than 44 million Americans claim Irish heritage. In addition to honoring the memory of those who perished in the Irish Starvation, the Irish Memorial will recognize the indomitable spirit of the Irish who became and integral part of this nation's fabric by virtue of their contributions. The monument will also serve as testimony to the rich legacy of Irish-American people. It is hoped that the Irish Memorial will educate and inspire all visitors.
In a 1997 international competition, Santa Fe artist Glenna Goodacre was unanimously selected as the winning sculptor for the Irish Memorial. On March 13, 2000, the Irish Memorial Committee held a ceremonial contract signing for the monument's commission. This event, which took place at the Plough and the Stars Restaurant in Philadelphia, marked the official beginning of the project, and Goodacre received the first installment on the commission. She was given 14 months to sculpt the Irish Memorial and 14 months to have it cast at Art Castings of Colorado in over 450 pieces.
This major monument stands in downtown Philadelphia at Front and Chestnut streets. The 1 ¾-acre national site is a public park that overlooks the Delaware River at historic Penn's Landing, a fitting location because of the many Irish who disembarked along those shores. The massive bronze is Goodacre's most ambitious public sculpture - with over 30 life-size figures. A majestic landscaped garden surrounds the sculpture.
The monumental bronze is designed as a dynamic arc filled with movement. Approximately 12 feet high, 30 feet long, and 12 feet wide, the sculpture rests on a concrete plinth 2 feet high and has the basic profile of a large wedge. The monument's flow depicts the famine in Ireland, the people embarking for America, and then the immigrants stepping onto American shores. The east end, suggesting a landscape, portrays the misery of the Irish Starvation. The contrast, the higher end, suggesting a ship, faces west as anxious immigrants dock in America and a number of figures rush forward in hope and anticipation. For this sculpture in the round, all of the figures are in period dress but are loosely modeled and impressionistic. From more than 100 artists, Goodacre was chosen to sculpt the Irish Memorial not only because of her dynamic design but also because she best expressed the mission and objective of the memorial.
Goodacre's ability to capture emotion in sculptural form has been honed over several decades of an award-winning career. The most recognized of her completed public monuments is the Vietnam Women's Memorial in Washington, D.C. Goodacre has more than 40 bronze portraits in public collections, including sculptures of Ronal Reagan, Dwight D. Eisenhower, Greer Garson, and Scott Joplin. In 2000, Goodacre's rendering of Sacagawea, the interpreter for Lewis and Clark, appeared on the face of a new dollar coin issued by the U.S. Mint. For more than a decade, Goodacre has been a participant in the Art in Embassies program, exhibiting work worldwide. An academian of the National Academy of Design since 1994 and a fellow of the National Sculpture Society since 1981, she has won many awards at her exhibitions in New York. Much earlier in her career, she studied in New York at the Art Students league. More recently, she received honorary doctorates from Colorado College, her alma mater, and Texas Tech University in her hometown of Lubbock.
As part of an initiative in the Philadelphia school district, as well as in other school districts throughout the country, the Irish famine has been recently added to the history curriculum. Philadelphia's Irish Memorial gives a stirring visual presentation, couples with substantial historical data, to complement the school curriculum. The memorial is truly and educational experience.
For more information about the Irish Memorial, see www.irishmemorial.org
VIETNAM WOMEN'S MEMORIAL
© Vietnam Women's Memorial, 1993. Photo by Greg Staley
"Glenna Goodacre has created a dramatic and moving work. Rather than drawing on a single moment in time, her sculpture provides a metaphor for war as experienced by those whose heroic contributions have been so often ignored. This bronze brings to life the urgency and pathos of the field, as well as the searing introspection that continues long, long, after."
- The Late J. Carter Brown, The Commission of Fine Arts
For more information about the Vietnam Women's Memorial, see www.VietnamWomensMemorial.org