On August 18, 1920, Tennessee became the 36th state to help pass the 19th amendment to the Constitution, which gave women the right to vote. To commemorate this critical moment in U.S. history, Nashville will unveil a larger-than-life monument in Nashville of five women who played fundamental roles in the final ratification battle — Anne Dallas Dudley, Abby Crawford Milton, J. Frankie Pierce, Sue Shelton White and Carrie Chapman Catt. Commissioned by the Tennessee Woman Suffrage Monument, Inc., the heroic statue was designed and created by Nashville’s Alan LeQuire, the mastermind behind The Parthenon’s “Athena” and the “Musica” statue on the Music Row roundabout. “It is important to recognize and remember the women who worked so hard to win ratification in Tennessee,” says Alan.
Known for his work of immense scale, Alan is skilled at animating the human figure so that it reveals a story of a particular time and place. His work “Cultural Heroes,” for example, features seven colossal heads sculpted from clay, representing key figures in the Civil Rights Movement. The sheer scale of the heads reiterates the importance of these social pioneers and underscores the permanence of their contributions. By memorializing these figures as larger-than-life icons, Alan confronts his audience with the faces that have reshaped history. The Tennessee Woman Suffrage Monument (TWSM) — a similar testament to the efforts of a courageous group — will include the five figures in a staggered formation, marching forward with banners held high. “The Anti-Suffrage Movement was very strong, especially in the South,” says Alan, “so these ladies had their work cut out for them.” Powerful but not aggressive, feminine but not delicate, the depiction of these women sheds light on the unrelenting strength and determination put forth during such trying times. Standing at nearly 7 feet tall, the figures reassert the importance of these events and the hope for even greater progress towards gender equality.
Though he has experimented with abstract and surrealist forms, Alan always has been drawn to the human figure, realizing its potential to reveal the often ineffable aspects of our experiences. He begins with direct carving and clay sculpting, which is then cast in bronze. This multi-step process can take years to perfect but, when done with skilled hands, results in truly remarkable forms that reveal the details of skin, hair and musculature. In creating the TWSM, Alan used photographic resources to recreate the bodies, faces and clothing of the figures. Because the monument features five specific women, he wanted to be sure to capture their likenesses.
Nashville is fortunate to have such a monument grace the city, and its reveal marks a significant turn in the celebration of women’s rights. Today, less than 8% of all public figurative monuments in the United States feature women. These statistics are hard to swallow, given the advances women have made socially, politically and economically since the 19th amendment was passed. “I saw from the beginning of my career that there were not enough statues of women in Tennessee,” Alan shares, “and I am glad that I have been able to make several.” Alan, whose mother was an artist and art teacher, has always had a reverence for women in the tradition of sculpture, and some of his proudest works involve the female form. “This monument has given me the opportunity to create portraits of five strong and important women, together. That is exciting to me by itself. It has also been an exciting and moving experience to learn about their lives, what they went through and what they accomplished,” he shares.
The monument will be unveiled at Centennial Park on Friday, August 26, 2016, which is Women’s Equality Day. The celebration, held from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m., will include speeches from notable Nashville leaders and politicians, including Nashville’s first female mayor, Megan Barry. In addition to the ceremonial reveal of the sculpture, Alan will have a selection of works on view at LeQuire Gallery from August 6 through August 27. This exhibition will show his breadth of work — from drawings and watercolor paintings to clay and bronze sculptures — and also will showcase one to two of the clay figures used to create the monument. This is the monument’s temporary location, but it will have a permanent location at Centennial Park in the next couple of years, as the park finishes current renovations.
NOTE: The TWSM has made great progress in raising funds for the monument but is still accepting donations to reach their goal. To contribute to their efforts, please visit their GoFundMe page or even better, consider donating $500 (by check, NOT through the GoFundMe page!) and becoming a member of The Yellow Rose Society, which includes having your name engraved around the monument when it has its permanent location in Centennial Park.
The unveiling of the Tennessee Woman Suffrage Monument takes place this Friday, August 26, 2016, from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. at Centennial Park, 2500 West End Ave., Nashville, TN 37203. To learn more, click here.
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