Gramercy Park Block Association - Neighborhood News #59


On June 5, 2003, Town & Village Publisher Christopher Hagedorn wrote an article "Historic Statue Entrusted in National Arts Club for Safe Keeping". Below is an excerpt from the article.  To read the entire story, click here.

"Stephen Garmey, a noted historian whose book on Gramercy Park is considered a benchmark work, said 'It was taken in a wooden box to the basement of the National Arts Club in 1983.  The last time I saw it was 10 years later and it was exactly as it had been when it was originally placed there.'

It would be very unfortunate if it has been damaged," said Garmey.  'They [the arts club] agreed to keep it safely - it's their responsibility.'"



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Missing Gramercy Park Statue Hunted in National Arts Club    

 April 20, 2011 7:36am

Gramercy Park trustees are on a mission to get back a nymph statue that's been hidden in the National Arts Club since '83.



To view a slideshow of the nymph statue when it was in Gramercy Park and then when it was photographed by a National Arts Club board member in the NAC basement on February 2, 2003, click here.


By Amy Zimmer

DNAinfo News Editor


GRAMERCY PARK - Trustees of Gramercy Park have mounted an "emergency effort" to save a rare 19th-century statue of a nymph that graced the park for nearly 120 years before being entrusted to the National Arts Club for safekeeping.


After hearing the club was cleaning out rooms that former president O. Aldon James used to hoard papers, art and debris, the park's trustees sent a letter to acting president Diane Bernhard asking that the statue, which was taken out of the park by the National Arts Club in 1983, ostensibly for repairs, be returned.

"We understand it may have been damaged and in need of repair when it was removed from the park," Rev. Tom Pike, a former Landmarks Preservation Commission official and current Gramercy Park trustee, wrote in the letter dated April 14. "We need your help in restoring this statue to the trustees."

The statue is an important part of the park's history, Pike said, calling it a "rare example" of sculpture built for a park. "This is an important artifact from the 19th century."


The 18-foot-tall zinc water nymph, built for the park in 1866, once gazed down at a young Theodore Roosevelt playing in that park as a child, Pike said. But years after she was removed from the park, she was photographed in shoddy condition - missing both hands and her scepter - hidden inside the basement the club's landmarked building at 15 Gramercy Park South, according to published reports.


Now park trustees are pushing to get the statue back from the club, calling it "an emergency" in light of the current dumpsters full of junk being cleared out of the club.


"We want to hold the National Arts Club responsible for their care of the statue. We're doing it for our concern of the historic fabric of the park," Pike said, wondering if the statue has been destroyed or sold.

Property owners around Gramercy Park paid $5,300, or the equivalent of approximately $1 million in today's dollars, to build the naiad to stand over the park's fountain.  


The fountain was removed from the park's center in 1909 to make way for a statue of the famed actor Edwin Booth as Hamlet, which remains there to this day. The nymph was later moved eastward and put on a stone base next to a reflecting pool, where she was "cherished" until being removed in 1983, Pike explained.


The nymph left the park just in time for the National Arts Club's 85th anniversary celebration, which included a dedication ceremony for another statue, Greg Wyatt's "Fantasy Fountain."


The sculpture of giraffes frolicking around a moon was rumored to have been rejected by Central Park's children's zoo before it was gifted to the National Arts Club, and some members blamed club president Aldon James for ousting the nymph statue to make way for the new sculpture.


The zinc nymph was supposed to be recast and spruced up, according to a 2003 article in the local newspaper Town & Village, which said workmen broke her off at the ankles to get her out of the park.


Instead, the statue was last seen in 2003 when Town & Village obtained secret photos of a damaged nymph stuffed into a corner in the club's basement - that reportedly had been flooded several times. Her hands were cut off and her scepter removed.


National Arts Club board members told DNAinfo that everyone was on the lookout for the statue, explaining there is a lot of space to cover in the building, including sub-basements that workers - who were not around in 1983 - are just uncovering.


"It could take a couple of days with all of the spaces they're uncovering in the building," a board member told DNAinfo.


"One would reasonably expect that an arts club would respect a statue," Pike told DNAinfo. "But now it's come to light that the club may not have been good stewards. If our statue was threatened or destroyed, it raises questions about the rest of the artwork there."


Sources familiar with the club's massive collection have been asking about several important works that may be damaged or have gone missing, including candlesticks made by Paul Manship, the sculptor of Rockefeller Center's Prometheus, and a bust of an Indian boy holding a bow and arrow by Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney.


Alex Rosenberg, a National Arts Club member and former president of the Art Appraisers Association, is taking stock of the club's massive inventory of artwork in storage and on display. His team of 17 appraisers has been combing through the building from the basement up. They're expected to have an overview of the 100 most important pieces in the club's collection by the end of May.


Disgraced club president Aldon James is currently being investigated by the state Attorney General and Manhattan District Attorney for alleged financial misdeeds in running the club, and he stepped down temporarily last month for a "vacation" of unspecified length.


National Arts Club board members are now encouraging people who have donated art or have an institutional memory of works from the club to contact Rosenberg through the club to help him chronicle the current state of the club's art collection.

Read more:


Town & Village Logo 
    Thursday, April 21, 2011

Gramercy Park trustees ask NAC to return nymph statue, last seen in '03

  By Sabina Mollot   


With the National Arts Club currently being cleaned from top to bottom and each work of art in the landmarked building's massive collection being inventoried, there's one piece that's of particular concern to neighbors at the moment.


That would be a historic statue of a nymph that was removed from inside Gramercy Park in 1983 and placed in the care of the club, presumably to be restored and eventually returned. Over the years, the trustees of the park have asked for the statue's return on a couple of occasions and were ignored and then rebuffed, said Rev. Dr. Tom Pike, one of five trustees.  


Pike, the former longtime rector of neighborhood parish, Calvary/St. George's, is also a former city landmarks commissioner, and said he believes the removal of the statue was done improperly. Like Gramercy Park itself, the 19th century nymph is landmarked.


"That statue is part of the historic fabric of the park," said Pike. "It's a matter of historic preservation for us."


It also, said Pike, belongs to the 39 lot owners the park trustees represent, as they're the ones paying for the maintenance of the gated park (and in 1844, funded the creation of the statue).


The trustees, meanwhile, have feuded with the National Arts Club on and off for years.


However, with its longtime president, O. Aldon James having stepped aside amidst recent allegations of hoarding, animal abuse and money mismanagement, and the club undergoing a massive spring cleaning, Pike said he wants to know the whereabouts of the statue as soon as possible, for fear someone might throw the zinc sculpture in the trash.  


The reason someone might do that is because the last time the statue was even seen by the community was in 2003 - and that was because it was on the front page of this newspaper in a photo someone snapped from inside the club. The photo showed that the nymph, which had been cut off at the ankles when removed from the park, was being stored in a basement, leaning against a wall rather than in a protective box, and appeared to be badly damaged.


How it happened is a mystery, but Pike said he believed the club, which is led by a board of directors as well as its president, should be held accountable.


An attorney representing James, Gerald Shargel, did not return calls for comment. When asked for Steven Leitner, an attorney and club power player for years, an employee at the Arts Club said Leitner, who lives in the building, was no longer involved with NAC. Meanwhile, insiders say the club's new regime, led by acting president Dianne Bernhard, is attempting to conduct business as transparently as possible and cooperate with ongoing investigations being conducted by the district attorney and attorney general. On May 3, the club will hold an election -  a process seen as a sham for years - for its unpaid leadership positions. This time, organizers are hoping to make it fair.  


As for the current status of the statue, earlier this week, Alex Rosenberg, a fine art appraiser overseeing the work being done at NAC, said he has no idea where it is. But, he added, if it is in the club, the 17-person team working on cataloguing the art collection will find it.  


"Nothing is being thrown away," he said. "These are arts people. No one will take a piece of sculpture and throw it away."


Rosenberg added that the team was working as quickly as possible, but with the club's huge collection of paintings, glass, furniture, books and other items (not to mention the former president's penchant for hoarding things), the project probably will not be finished until the end of June. The appraisal work also entails figuring out which pieces belong to the club - and most things in the official collection are marked - and which do not.


Hillary Weldon, a spokesperson for the club said, "We're keeping our fingers crossed" about the statue, but added that there is more than one basement in the club as well as sub-basements to go through.


The club's board had seen a letter from the trustees on Tuesday asking for the statue back, and "We hope to return it," said Weldon. She also said if anyone has any information about the piece, or other works of art that various individuals have been inquiring about, he or she should call the club and ask for Rosenberg.


If the statue is still in the club, Pike said he hopes to get it regardless of the condition it's in, saying the trustees would raise the money to restore it if they have to. The decision in 1983 to have the statue removed was authorized by the chair of the park's trustees at the time, Constance Gibson. This was done, said Pike, at the suggestion of James, who was then the club's vice president. James told Gibson the statue was in bad condition and ought to be removed and restored and in its place, the club arranged for a modern statue called "Fantasy Fountain" by artist Greg Wyatt to be placed in the park.


That statue, depicting a moon with a face and frolicking giraffes, is now partially obscured by surrounding bushes. The nymph, meanwhile, said Pike, "has historical significance. It was placed there by the trustees at the very outset of the park."  


As for Gibson's blessing for James to remove it, Pike said, "Our predecessor acted in good faith. She thought it was a good thing to put it in the care of the National Arts Club."


He noted that the statue's predicament was not unlike that of the larger club and Gramercy Park community, and how with James gone, there was an attempt to regain control of what was lost during his 27-year reign as NAC president.  


"In some ways the story of the statue is the story of the community," said Pike. "It's a real betrayal of trust."


As Town & Village reported last month, for years, James and his twin brother John James were said to have used scare tactics like frivolous lawsuits and harassment to stay in power there and keep members quiet. Any stories published by this newspaper about controversy at NAC were swept under the rug - literally. As the cleanup was underway, a source reported seeing stacks of T&V still wrapped up in twine that had apparently been hidden over the years from potential readers. But after James' went on a well-publicized "vacation," employees who'd been fired from the club were allowed to return, and, as T&V's police blotter has noted, two individuals have come forward with complaints of harassment against John.


Originally put in the center of the park in 1966 above a fountain, the nymph sculpture was later moved to another section, when the statue of Edwin Booth was placed there in 1909 and then again in 1918 to another section 50 feet away. There it remained until 1983. There is not much documentation on its origins, but a leaflet produced to celebrate the park in 1948 credited Frederick W. MacMonnies as its sculptor.

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