December 18, 2009
Historical photographs are important for the visual perspective they provide on the past; they are also fun to look at. I recently finished cataloging a collection of photographs dating from 1898 to 1940 and, as I worked with these images, I relished the opportunity to hold history in my hands. The American Sculpture Photograph Study Collection in the Photograph Archives of the American Art Museum is a rich visual resource on sculpture that was compiled by the Metropolitan Museum of Art for study purposes. It was later donated to American Art's Photograph Archives, where all the photographs have been digitized and are on line.
One of my favorite examples is this early twentieth-century photograph of the Taft Bridge in Washington, D.C. Sans paved road or traffic, it bears little resemblance to the Taft Bridge of today. It seems almost . . . quiet.
The Taft Bridge, which spans Rock Creek Park on Connecticut Avenue in northwest Washington, D.C., was erected between 1897 and 1906 and was one of the first pre-cast concrete bridges in America. Originally known as the Million Dollar Bridge, it was named in memory of President Taft in 1930. A pair of pre-cast concrete lions, designed by sculptor Roland Hinton Perry (1870–1941), flanks each approach to the bridge.
As Washington, D.C., prospered and grew, as political parties took turns in seats of power and presidents came and went, the Perry Lions remained watchful. However, the city was not as watchful over the lions. With exposure to the increasing pollution of the twentieth century and the fragile nature of the pre-cast concrete, the condition of the lions deteriorated dramatically. In 1993, when the condition of the lions was deemed “terminal,” they were stabilized and put into storage. Later, four new lions were recast by artist Reinaldo López-Carrizo using reinforced concrete and placed on the bridge in 2002.
In addition to recasting the lions for the bridge, López-Carrizo cast another pair of the lions in bronze to flank the main entrance of the nearby National Zoo. So whether you see them on the bridge or at the zoo, one hundred years after they were first erected, the Perry Lions still stand watch over Connecticut Avenue.
- Sculpture, Photography, Bridges, Taft Bridge, Rock Creek Park, Washington, DC, American Art,
Smithsonian American Art Museum
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