End of December and the beginning of January are the time of long shadows in the Northeast. Also, and not atypically, the skies are grey and cloudy and they share precious little light. I took along vacation and felt little inspiration in the dreariness and the lack luster snow.
To break this trend my wife and I after Christmas went up to the Concord Museum in Concord, Massachusetts. This is a gem of a museum that covers the rich history of the town. At Christmas they set up Christmas trees, in the various rooms each decorated around a story book theme. Parents come and read the books to their children and gaze at the trees. The children are given sheets of paper and told to find various ornaments somewhere on a tree in the museum. The place becomes one great scavenger hunt, with children laughing and scurrying about.
Amidst all of this, this year there was an exhibit about the great American sculptor Daniel Chester French (1850-1931), who was born in Concord. The two bookends of French’s career are the “Minuteman Monument” by Concord’s “Old North Bridge,” and the “Lincoln Memorial” in Washington, DC. To my taste however the great sensitivity and quality of his work is nowhere more brilliantly displayed than in the “Melvin Memorial” in Concord’s “Sleepy Hollow Cemetery.“In 1897 French was commissioned by James C. Melvin, a Boston businessman, to design a war monument honoring his three brothers who had died in the Civil War. The memorial was erected in 1908. Figure 2 shows a detail from the actual monument, showing a mourning victory. To me Victory seems to be emerging from the Earth. Perhaps she is meant to symbolize not just the victory in battle in the American Civil War, but the final victory over death.
As I wandered between the various exhibits I was struck by a dramatic circular window and the dimly lit snowy scene outside. I couldn’t help but take the photograph of Figure 1. The light in the window and the darkly lit walls around it seemed to accurately depict the long low light of winter, the coming New Year, and the slight but waxing expectation of spring.