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Angel of the Waters

GayRVA Staff | March 14, 2011

Editor’s Note: This is a guest post by Judd Proctor of the Rainbow Minute. Read The Rainbow Minute daily on GayRVA.com by clicking here.

This past February 15, we made a quick trip to New York City so Brian could nail down some facts for his upcoming biography about Richmond’s premier entrepreneur and philanthropist, Major Lewis Ginter. While walking in Ginter’s footsteps past the location of his home and business, we were able to stray over to Central Park to see one of its most popular attractions – the “Angel of the Waters Fountain” at Bethesda Terrace.

It is located in the center of the park on the north side of 72nd Street. The tiered fountain, topped by the sculpture of an angel, was unveiled in 1873 and created by Emma Stebbins, the first woman to receive a sculptural commission in New York City. She designed the neoclassical winged sculpture to celebrate the fresh water that the new Croton Aquaduct provided both the fountain and all New Yorkers.

The angel holds a lily in one hand, representing purity, with the other hand outstretched to bless the water. Before the aqueduct was constructed, the city’s water supply had been unsafe to drink.

As a tribute to Emma Stebbins, we feature this “Rainbow Minute” during Women’s History Month.

“Sculptress, Emma Stebbins”

Considered the first notable American woman sculptor, Emma Stebbins was born in New York City in 1815.

Her family encouraged her studies at various American studios. A trip to Rome would secure the love of the highly-successful and charismatic actress Charlotte Cushman, who was involved in the bohemian and lesbian-feminist scene.

One of Stebbins’ early commissions was a bust of Cushman herself, completed in 1860. Five years later, her bronze statute of educator Horace Mann was installed outside the State House in Boston.

By far, Stebbins is best known for “Angel of the Waters,” located on the Bethesda Terrace in Central Park in New York City.

Unfortunately, when her beloved Charlotte died in 1876 of pneumonia, Stebbins’ days of creative inspiration were over.