Visualizing American History and Identity in the Ellen Phillips Samuel Memorial

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In her will, Philadelphia philanthropist Ellen Phillips Samuel designated $500,000 to the Fairmount Park Art Association "for the erection of statuary on the banks of the Schuylkill River ... emblematic of the history of America from the time of the earliest settlers to the present." The initial phase of the resulting sculpture project - the Central Terrace of the Samuel Memorial - should be considered one of the fullest realizations of New Deal sculpture. It in many ways corresponds (conceptually, thematically, and stylistically) with the simultaneously developing art programs of the federal government. Analyzing the Memorial project highlights some of the tensions underlying New Deal public art, such as the difficulties of visualizing American identity and history, as well as the complexities involved in the process of commissioning artwork intended to fulfill certain programmatic purposes while also allowing for a level of individual artists' creative expression.