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Evelyn Longman’s Tender Allegory of the Toll of War

Sculptor Evelyn Longman planned to send the plaster cast of her sculpture Victory of Mercy to the Modern Art Foundry in Queens, New York, over the summer of 1947. There the design would be fabricated into a five-ton bronze monument in larger-than-life scale. Her husband, Loomis Headmaster Nathaniel Batchelder, later explained in a letter to the foundry that the cast’s arrival would be delayed: “Important people are coming to see it.”

Victory of Mercy, Loomis Chaffee’s war memorial, is arguably one of the most historically significant objects on the school’s campus. It derives the deepest, most important meanings from its location. Placed on the east side of its sculptor’s studio, Chiselhurst-on-Farmington (now called Longman Hall), where Evelyn Longman worked for 27 years of her highly acclaimed career, it is also in view of the home she shared with her husband and of Founders Hall, where every man the monument honors crossed the threshold as a Loomis student or teacher. The object’s design intersects with national debates surrounding war memorials and, surprisingly, resided from 1923–1945 as a two-foot model on a tabletop in Chiselhurst before finally being cast in large scale. Business correspondence, embedded with deep connections to the history of the school, reveal an unexpected backstory about the object that Longman once described as “the biggest thing in feeling I have ever done.”

A mid-1920s photograph of Longman working in her studio on the Spanish American War Memorial for Hartford’s Bushnell Park reveals the small-scale model tucked against the studio’s west wall. Despite being out of the way, visitors were drawn to it. In 1924, Mr. B. wrote to Col. Arthur Woods and referred to his Harvard classmate’s earlier studio visit and admiration for the “two figure group of the winged angel giving comfort to the fallen man.” Mr. B. lobbied Woods and other planners of Harvard’s World War I monument, pitching this design, as “an ideal memorial…represent[ing] the purpose with which many of us went into the war, and … free from…conventional and hackneyed symbols of many war memorials.” This was the first of nine unsuccessful campaigns during the interwar period to sell the allegorical design and respond to inquiries about “that beautiful Angel stooping over a sick man” from monument committees in Chicago, Texas, Connecticut, Virginia, New York, and Los Angeles and private clients in New Jersey and New York. Longman tried to no avail to shift the design’s meaning away from war; in 1940 she noted its suitability to a client looking to “acquir[e] a sculpture which would embody the virtues of kindness, sympathy, and service.” Batchelder lamented in 1932, “many have loved it,” but no plans for fabricating it in heroic scale came to fruition by the end of 1941 and America’s entrance into World War II. While Longman described her career as having had unusually good success with art commission competitions and she sometimes turned away private requests because she was too busy, this story reveals how the business side of making art could be affected by global events, politics, and shifting cultural values.

In stark contrast to Longman’s allegorical design stood the popular and less expensive mass-produced “Doughboy” statues. Depicting an American soldier wearing a typical World War I infantry uniform and carrying a bayonetted rifle, these statues were dedicated in towns and cities across the nation during the 1920s and 1930s, the same decades that Longman displayed the model for Victory of Mercy in Chiselhurst. While some favored this realistic depiction of a soldier figure, others suggested — controversially — that the “war to end all wars” ought to be memorialized with more realism surrounding the consequences of war. Anna Coleman Ladd and Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney produced such monuments for Beverly Farms and Manchester by the Sea, Massachusetts, and Washington Heights, New York, in the early 1920s. Longman’s two-figure group shares design elements with Ladd’s and Whitney’s monuments as well as ideas about service and compassion articulated by these sculptures and their artists. Ladd, in her 1924 Memorial Day Address given at Beverly Farms, stated, “The victors can sit back no longer: They are bound by that sacrifice of boys to live up to their ideal of a new world, to make good their hopes, to remember.” In 1922, The New York Tribune described the subject of Whitney’s monument as “the common heroism and humanity of the American warrior” — a “helmeted doughboy [bending] to receive the last words of the dying sailor.”

In 1945, the Loomis Trustees accepted Longman’s offer of her “labor of love,” the war memorial she titled Victory of Mercy, honoring the school’s alumni and faculty who had fought in World Wars I and II and a thinly veiled tribute to her husband’s almost four-decade service to the boys of the school. Batchelder’s portrait appears as the face of the angel. Longman requested no compensation for her three years of work enlarging, revising, and preparing the piece for casting.  The monument’s dedication took place on June 11, 1948. Tom DePatie ’48, president of the senior class that year; Glover Howe ’48, president of the Student Council; and George Christian ’49, incoming president of the Student Council, unveiled the sculpture during Commencement weekend.

And the visitor from the summer before? Former First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt, in her role as chairperson of the United Nations Committee on Human Rights, expressed interest in viewing Victory of Mercy and perhaps acquiring a copy for the U.N. site in New York City. While Roosevelt was forced to cancel plans to see the plaster cast at Chiselhurst, it’s tempting to imagine she shared Longman’s confidence in this sculpture to inspire compassionate leadership and service. Longman had earlier told The Log that viewers could ascribe their own meanings to the memorial but suggested one possibility could be that the allegorical figures depicted the newly formed United Nations and its future work in the post-war world.


 

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