Bartholdi’s visit in the summer of 1871
August 29, 2013
As August draws to a close, I have been thinking of another summer, that of 1871, and Frédéric Auguste Bartholdi’s first visit to America. Bartholdi, the French sculptor who would design the Statue of Liberty, spent four months in the United States that year, meeting with people in cities along the East Coast to discuss the idea of a liberty statue and then traveling west across the country, to California. From the window of his train he looked out on the plains of the Midwest, on high plateaus, mountains and valleys, and an abundance of wildlife that is difficult to imagine today—one herd of buffalo, he estimated, numbered around one thousand. He spotted an Indian woman with a child on her back, he recorded in his journal shortly after leaving Omaha, and marveled at scenes that were like “something out of a fairy tale.” Bartholdi was mesmerized by the scale and beauty of the land he traveled through; it lifted his soul and colored his imagination. By the time he was heading back east his journal entries, previously brief, had become poetic. “For some time we passed through superb forests, to which the autumn has begun to give the most lovely tints. The bindweed and Virginia creeper, in autumnal colors, stretch from one tree to another as if to enclose the forest recesses, which are already being invaded by the woodman’s axe. These plants, like a band of voluptuaries, with their feet in the rich, swampy earth and their heads bathed in sunlight seem to indulge in gestures of the wildest extravagance.”
Bartholdi’s experience of America that summer convinced him to pursue the idea for a liberty statue, and established an enduring personal commitment to the project.