Thursday, February 1, 2007

Eleanor Roosevelt: OMOM Essay 40

The surprise in writing this essay was how intensely I came to dislike Eleanor Roosevelt. “About the Subject” originally focused an action that made my blood boil, which occurred during her tenure as assistant director of the Office of Civilian Defense. The amorphous aims of the OCD (established by FDR in May 1941) included protection of the civilian population, maintenance of morale and promotion of volunteer involvement in defense. Director Fiorello LaGuardia (Essay 9), juggling his OCD and mayoral duties, focused on basics such as air raid procedures and black-out drills. Mrs. Roosevelt, however, allotted OCD funds for day-care and health services. Not long after Pearl Harbor she added long-time friend and professional dancer Mayris Chaney to the OCD payroll: rhythmic and folk dancing, she told the New York Times, had proved in England to have "a definite part" in war-time programs. Even after a furor that led to her resignation, Mrs. Roosevelt reiterated her belief that "better nutrition, better housing, better day-by-day medical care, better education, better recreation for every age" were essential to national defense. A couple months after I'd submitted the manuscript of Outdoor Monuments of Manhattan - when I was already deeply involved in another project - my editor at New York University Press pointed out that the tone of this "About the Subject" was far more polemical than anything else in the book, and just didn't fit in a guidebook with excursions into art theory. Once he pointed it out I had to admit he was right about the tone, but since I couldn’t find any anecdotes on Mrs. Roosevelt that made me like her, I settled for compiling a biographical sketch. I consider it one of the most insipid sections of OMOM. “About the Sculpture,” on the other hand, was interesting to write because it tackles the issue of evaluating a sculpture philosophically, as opposed to philosophically evaluating the person represented. Eleanor Roosevelt is the most recent sculpture to appear in OMOM, having been dedicated in 1996. Other representational sculptures have been dedicated in New York since then that don’t appear in the book, for example the under-lifesize portrait of Benito Juarez in Bryant Park. The blog gets no photo of this sculpture, because I forgot to ask the sculptor for permission to use images on the web as well as in the book.

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