New Sculpture Sponsor Steps Up on Summit

Historic bronzes have a new patron to assure their conservation.

David Fellon, CEO of Progressive Rail, admires the history and artistic presence of the historic sculptures in parks along Summit Avenue. He and his family stepped up in a big way to care for two of the street’s iconic bronze sculptures: Nathan Hale by William Ordway Partridge and The New York Life Eagle, by Augustus and Louis Saint-Gaudens. Their major gift assures the ongoing care of the sculptures for the next decade. And David wins the award for best check presentation – in a gift box filled with the Pearson’s candy as iconic in Saint Paul as these historic sculptures!

Both sculptures will be cleaned and conserved this August by KCI Conservation whose founder, Kristin Cheronis, has a long history restoring and conserving these works.

The outdoor art collection in our Saint Paul parks is one of the largest in the state. These diverse works require specialized care that is beyond the normal operating budget of the City. The Saint Paul Conservancy has stepped up with a sponsorship program to provide for ongoing care. If there is a work of art in Saint Paul parks that you love, become a sponsor today!

Background on the two sculptures (excerpted from The Sculptures of
Upper Summit Avenue by Public Art St. Pau

Nathan Hale, dedicated in 1907, was the first monument west of Ohio to honor the Revolutionary War. Its sculptor, William Ordway Partridge, (1861-1930) was born in Paris to a wealthy Saint Paul merchant family. He studied art at Columbia College, where he also developed a keen and life-long interest in theatre.

In 1902, Partridge published an historical character study of Nathan Hale, The Ideal Patriot. Shortly thereafter, he was commissioned to create Saint Paul’s sculpture by the Nathan Hale Chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution. Partridge worked for more than 5 years on the piece, seeking a depiction of Hale that would be “inspired and vital to the living present.”

The bronze sculpture depicts Nathan Hale with hands tied behind his back, waiting to meet his fate on the scaffold. He is dressed in the simple garb of a schoolmaster. The St. Paul Pioneer Press exclaimed at the time of dedication that “the attitude is a striking one, full of strength and dignity”.

The New York Life Eagle, cast bronze, 1890 by Augustus and Louis Saint-Gaudens, was commissioned by the New York Life Insurance Company for its impressive Saint Paul landmark. Saint Paul’s beautiful 10-story New York Life building faced Minnesota Street, in the center of downtown. The entrance was three stories high and capped by the magnificent New York Life Eagle. The sculpture is an allegory of protection, with the majestic bird poised on a ledge of rock, its wings spread as a shelter over its nest of eaglets. Its talons firmly grasp a serpent that has threatened its young.

The New York Life Eagle occupied a central position in the life of the City of Saint Paul until 1967, when the beautiful New York Life Building was razed to make room for new urban development. This occurred before the organization of a Heritage Preservation Commission. A group of citizens led by Georgia Ray Lindeke did, however, make the case for preserving the New York Life Eagle from the building’s demolition and headlines of the day asked, “Anybody for a Genuine Homeless Green Eagle?”.

Fast forward and the beautifully restored New York Life Eagle alit in Summit Overlook/Lookout Park on June 29, 2004 thanks to hard work by Public Art Saint Paul, Ramsey Hill Association, Saint Paul Parks and Recreation, and the Saint Paul Design Center. The Lookout Park Partnership renovated the park, with major support from Ruth and A.J. Huss, Dusty and George Mairs, Rotary Club of Saint Paul, City of Saint Paul STAR program, and many generous individuals. The Park was rededicated on August 13, 2008.

Photo Credits: NY Life Eagle by Saint Paul Parks Conservancy. Nathan Hale courtesy Public Art St. Paul.