Dispatch from the MAS Adopt-A-Monument Program: For the Love of Joan

May 31, 2024

On Saturday, May 18, the Municipal Art Society of New York, the Joan of Arc Statue Committee, and the Riverside Park Conservancy celebrated the Upper West Side’s Maid of Orléans—the Joan of Arc statue and her recent restoration under MAS’s Adopt-A-Monument program. Special guests included Acting French Consul General in NY Damien Laban, Council Member Gale Brewer, and MAS President Elizabeth Goldstein. Plus, performances by Broadway Star Norm Lewis, PS 84 Student Choir, Hudson Classical Theater Company, and treats for humans and dogs.

One of the most beautiful monuments in the city, Saint Joan stands proudly atop her bronze war horse, her head looking heavenward, and her detailed armor in full view. On rising ground, facing the Hudson River, surrounded by oak leaf hydrangea, rhododendron, and ferns, it’s a sylvan setting in which to think about what went on 500 years ago. Jeanne la Pucelle, the peasant maid, whose visions propelled her to gain audience with Charles V11 was appointed to lead the French army routing the English from the city of Orleans, only later to be burned at the stake for heresy in Rouen on May 30, 1431; some 20 years following, a reinvestigation annulled her sentence; and 500 years after that, her martyrdom so haunted the imagination that on May 16, 1920, she was canonized Saint Joan.

Dazzling as the monument is today, four decades ago she was among hundreds of public sculptures that suffered from the twin threats of environmental pollution and urban abuse. Many of our city’s masterpieces, including Joan, were deteriorating rapidly. The Municipal Art Society, founded 131 years ago by architects and artists, led the City Beautiful Movement seeking to beautify NYC with public art. In 1987 MAS undertook an innovative program in partnership with the NYC Parks Department, to preserve public art, launching the Adopt-A-Monument Program.

MAS restored the sorely damaged Joan of Arc statue in 1987 (one of the first in our program to be conserved) through a grant from the Grand Marnier Foundation. At the time we concentrated on the magnificent bronze and have maintained the piece since then. But the 1915 Gothic- style granite pedestal never received an equivalent full conservation treatment.

In 2024, with a grant from the JOA Statue Committee, chaired by Randy Hugill, we were able to accomplish this. The base is extraordinary as it has an historic connection to the period in which Joan of Arc lived– limestone blocks from the old tower at Rouen which had been where Joan was imprisoned; and a stone from Rheims Cathedral where the coronation of Charles VII took place. The king appointed her to lead the French army routing the English from the city of Orleans. So, you see, 500 years of history are incorporated in the monument!

In 1915 when the monument was dedicated, it was a salute to the friendship that bound France and the United States since the American revolution and our support of France and Europe during World War I. It has taken on the other dimension of a celebration of women—not only Saint Joan, but also the esteemed American sculptor Anna Vaugh Hyatt Huntington who began work on her great equestrian statue at a time when the Salon of Paris believed only a man could undertake such an ambitious project.

Vive la France!

On Saturday, May 18, the Municipal Art Society of NY, the Joan of Arc Statue Committee, and the Riverside Park Conservancy celebrated the Upper West Side’s Maid of Orléans—the Joan of Arc statue and her recent restoration under MAS’s Adopt-A-Monument program. Credit: Nancy Oatts.