Recently I talked about a blog post written by Christine Hayes from the Calgary Public Library. It referenced a previous article that I wrote last Spring, which was published by Stephen magazine. The follow-on story is located here on pages 29 and 30.
Briefly, both articles talked about the first piece of public art placed in Calgary.
An early Parks Superintendent, Richard Iverson, who worked for Kaiser Wilhelm is important to this story. He was hired in 1910 and subsequently fired (or told to resign, I can’t remember which) in early 1913, which occurred within a few weeks of when Thomas Mawson (of the Mawson Plan fame) was hired as the town planner for the City of Calgary. During that short period of time, Iverson proposed installing a copy of a well-known piece by the German sculptor, August Kiss [1802-1865] entitled Amazon on Horseback Attacked by a Lion (or alternatively Panther) in front of the Carnegie Library in Memorial Park.
Subsequently, it was moved, was put into storage (in the 1940s) and subsequently seems to have disappeared. Hence the mystery.
Now a bit of speculation on my part:
I mention the Mawson Plan as I think this is material fact to why Iverson was let go (at least in part). He also had a run-in with the law in 1912 for violating liquor laws. I can’t remember the exact specifics, but he was somehow involved in a speakeasy or after-hours club or something like that. He was taken into custody and in the end was found not guilty of whatever he was charged with. He also was accused of doing private work using City resources by the group which his successor was the secretary of. The secretary of this group had also applied for Iverson’s job previously. Based on what I can determine, Iverson was an interesting character. As I recall reading, Tom Baines the long-time zoo educator (or whatever his job title was), wrote that Richard Iverson was probably the city’s first feminist (or something to that effect). Iverson also was probably polarizing in his personality, as I suspect there was a love-hate relationship with him amongst many. That is neither here nor there, but an interesting back-story nevertheless.
Using that as context, I have a bit of unfounded speculation about the Amazon sculpture and Iverson’s plans. It is entirely speculation, so take it with a grain of salt.
There is a large sculpture of August Kiss’ Amazon located at the Altes Museum in Berlin. In addition, there also is a large copy of it located in front of the Philadelphia Museum of Art which is owned by the Association for Public Art (formerly known as the Fairmount Park Art Association). Central to my speculation, is that both of these sculptures are located to the right-hand side when facing the main entrance of both buildings.
In front of the newly built Carnegie Library, Iverson also placed the zinc Amazon sculpture on the right hand side just like the other two institutions.
At the Altes Museum on the left side is a sculpture by the German artist, Albert Wolff [1814-1892] entitled Löwenkämpfer or alternatively, The Lion Fighter. To the left of the Philadelphia Museum of Art main entrance there is ironically placed a large sculpture also by Albert Wolff, coincidently also called The Lion Fighter. Is this a coincidence or planned? Hard to know.
Based on that information, and furthering my speculation, I feel that Iverson also planned to install a smaller zinc version of Albert Wolff’s sculpture The Lion Fighter to act as a companion to the existing August Kiss sculpture.
Around the same time that the Amazon sculpture was installed, a second public sculpture was proposed by lawyer Major Stanley Jones [1876-1916] et al, for the park. It placed as a memorial for those who fought in the Boar War Memorial. It is a very fine, major equestrian sculpture by Louis-Phillipe Hébert [Canadian, 1850-1917] which still stands in the park. There also were two medallions commissioned from the artist at the same time – one of Queen Victoria and the other of King Edward VII (which was removed at some unknown time and a replacement medallion was commissioned). There is quite an extensive write-up about this piece located here, even though there are some noticeable inaccuracies in the content of the website, the content is generally very good.
Given the nature of this park as a memorial, once again I will travel down a speculative road. Unfortunately, I had a huge 800+ page digital file containing extensive research notes and information on public art in Calgary on my old computer. It evaporated off my hard-drive around this time last year. As a result I must go from memory alone on this. Around the time the Amazon sculpture was installed (or proposed) the Hébert sculpture was also proposed. There is the potential for interesting speculation – I wonder if there was some discussion between Iverson and Stanley for future planned use of the park as a memorial site.
Regardless, we know that the Amazons were important part of Greek mythology as warriors. As such the placement of this sculpture in front of the library, which serves as a seat of knowledge, was quite thoughtful and inspired especially given the future use of the park as a memorial.
It would also be interesting to know given that (if it is fact, which it may not be), whether the organizers and the parks superintendent at the time of the installation of the I.O.D.E. sponsored WWI sculpture by Couer-de-lion MacCarthy [Canadian, 1881-1979] were aware of this context. Of course, we are dealing in second guessing. If this was known, might the MacCarthy sculpture been positioned elsewhere on the park. If so, where?
Back to the Mawson plan. I think that Iverson had grand ambitions for town planning which involved cultural properties and assets. I base this on the ambitious projects he undertook on the time he was here. To continue my speculation, I assume that when Thomas Mawson was doing his grand tour of Canada, it might have been easier to hire him and make Iverson expendable. As stated, this is rank speculation on my part, but it is an interesting speculation nevertheless.
Based on my conversation with Christine from the Public Library yesterday, she will most likely have more information in her upcoming blog posting on the library site. I look forward to hearing what she has to say.
Now for the sales pitch.
At the time of writing the Stephen magazine article, I became aware of another copy of the August Kiss sculpture Amazon on Horseback Attacked by a Lion (or alternatively Panther that is currently available on the market. Is this the same piece as was once in Calgary? Who knows? Maybe it is still in a crate in a warehouse that has not been opened for decades. Maybe it was sold. Maybe it was scrapped. We may never know what actually happened.
As stated in the Stephen magazine, that this work and others are available in the market periodically. If someone wanted to step up to the plate and purchase this work as a potential donation to the City of Calgary Civic Art Collection, I am of the opinion that this would be a phenomenal addition to the collection. I would be very willing to help broker this deal and put the two parties together.
This sculpture deserves to be in Calgary. Although neglected at one time and probably defaced and or damaged, this is our history. We should be proud of being essentially a small-town in the early 1900s with grand ambitions and the balls to put a piece of public art on display that was probably risqué at the time. Kudos to all those involved. Who knows, maybe it will be just like the blue ring 100 years from now. It is a very important part of our local history and we should have it here.