October 1, 2008

Prudence Crandall takes her spot in the Capitol

Reporter Jackie Majerus wrote this story:
The new bronze statue of state heroine Prudence Crandall – installed Tuesday in the Capitol – is clasping a book and standing calmly next to her student, the two of them looking bravely forward.
Rather than perched atop a pedestal, the teacher and student are at eye level, which is exactly the way sculptor Gabriel Koren wanted it.
"I don't want to do any sculpture up high," said Koren, dismissing the use of a pedestal as "a very old fashioned idea."
People can't identify with someone perched way up high, said Koren.
But when the statue is at eye level, people have an easier time relating to the subject, and may say, "'Oh, she is just like me,'" said Koren. "The next step is, 'Maybe I can be just like her.'"
That kind of inspiration is what made the statue – to be officially unveiled in the coming weeks – possible after a decade of waiting.
State Rep. Betty Boukus, a Plainville Democrat who led the drive to see the statue become a reality, said it all started about 10 years ago with students at Hubbell School in Bristol.
The students wanted to know why Nathan Hale, the state hero, had a big statue in the state Capitol but Crandall – a white teacher who faced racism and terror after she opened her school for girls to black students – did not.
Boukus talked with the students about how they could get involved. 
"I represented them just as I represent their parents," said Boukus.
They wrote letters, testified in hearings and did their best to make the case for Crandall.
"We really wanted her to have a statue," said Leo Rausch, who was a fourth grade student at Hubbell when he and his classmates first asked Boukus why Hale had a statue and Crandall didn't.
"We collected money. We tried to let everyone know about it," said Alitha Krolikowski, now a senior at Bristol Eastern High School who was a Hubbell School fifth grader when she went to Hartford to lobby for Crandall.
"I think that it's really neat that what we did all those years ago actually amounted to something," said Krolikowski, who said she wants to attend the unveiling ceremony.
Rausch, who is now a freshman studying software engineering at the Rochester Institute of Technology in Rochester, N.Y., said in a phone interview Tuesday that he was glad to hear about the statue.
He felt good that a bunch of kids could "do something actually good" like put a statue in the state Capitol, Rausch said.
Boukus said she, the students and other supporters "lobbied everyone in the General Assembly" before she won a $100,000 state grant to support the project.
The children pitched in to help raise money, too.
In a campaign called "Pennies for Prudence," children raised more than $3,000, said Boukus. She said she didn't want any student collecting more than 10 cents.
It was a way they could make a contribution, an investment in the statue, said Boukus, and learn that if they wanted something, they might have to pay for it.
But, she said, "I did not want this to be a children's fundraiser."
Boukus was on hand at the Capitol Tuesday when the statue was set in place.
"It's exciting," she said. The statue is draped now, covered before an official unveiling.
"This is an historic day at the Capitol," said Boukus. "It's been more than 100 years since they put a statue in here."
The statue of Crandall is only the third of an individual to be added to the Capitol. The others are of Hale and former Gov. William Buckingham.
"This is going to be here forever," Boukus said proudly.
Crandall founded a school in Canterbury in the early 1830s for black girls and kept it going for almost a year and a half before concern for her students' safety forced her to close it. 
The school building at the junction of Routes 14 and 169 is now a National Historic Landmark and a state museum.
Initially, Boukus had to fend off a move to put Crandall outside the Capitol.
"I really wanted her inside," said Boukus.
The statue depicts Crandall standing with one of her students, a young black woman.
"We wanted to make the connection with young people," said Boukus, and to show that the teacher, a Quaker, saw no difference between the races.
In Crandall's time, said Boukus, learning wasn't something girls could take for granted.
"It was a privilege to be educated," said Boukus.
Crandall's school was "very revolutionary at that time," said Koren, who said she learned about Crandall after taking on the job of sculpting the statue.
Koren, a native of Budapest, Hungary, studied at the Hungarian National Academy of Fine Art. She came to the United States in 1978 at age 30, said Koren, to live in New York. She said she wanted to live in a multi-cultural, non-European country.
"I wanted to be living in a big city," said Koren. "I wanted to be in the mix."
Sculpting a likeness of Crandall was a challenge, said Koren, because there were no photographs available of her when she was a young woman running her school.
"The photograph, it was not invented yet," said Koren, who said she worked from a painting. The only photo of Crandall, Koren said, showed an old woman with a wrinkled face, not the young schoolteacher she sought to depict.
"It was difficult," said Koren. She said she went to the library and researched what kind of clothes women wore in the 1830s, when Crandall had her school.
The statue was six years in the making, said Koren, because part way through her work she took on another project, a statue of abolitionist Frederick Douglass, which will soon be erected in Central Park in New York.
"I was working on the two commissions at the same time," said Koren, who has a third sculpture to her name. It is of Malcolm X and is on display in the Audubon Ballroom in Harlem.

The picture, by the way, is from Youth Journalism International, a journalism education organization that my wife and I operate that brings scores of young writers from across the world together. You can find it online at youthjournalism.org.

Copyright 2008. All rights reserved.
Contact Steve Collins at scollins@bristolpress.com


Anonymous said...

Excellent story -- and a lot better than the one in the Courant this morning!!!!

Anonymous said...

Is the one on the right Prudence Crandall???????

Anonymous said...

9:49am - what a "prudent" observation.