Walking along Main Street in Downtown Dallas, to keep with social distancing practices I cut through a corner park where the Southwestern Life Building once stood. Exiting “Pegasus Plaza” I looked to my left and saw a glowing golden sculpture that hadn’t been there before. Of course, I had to go check it out.
Dallas doesn’t have much, perhaps not any figural sculpture on public display. It did have one great example, Alexander Phimster Proctor’s sculpture of Robert E. Lee on horseback. It’s a shame the figure commissioned in the 1930s would become such a lightning rod that in fewer than 100 years it would be sold and relegated to a golf course outside of El Paso.
What I would find a block north kinda makes up for the loss. As I approached, there was a familiarity, but I wasn’t sure if this was something similar or a replica. I’d seen photos of an “electricity” sculpture like this on top of a building. Up close, I knew this was probably the real deal, but I couldn’t place it.
My first thought was the Electric Tower in Buffalo. When I got to my computer, a quick search showed, that wasn’t it. It didn’t take long to find the Spirit of Communication by Evelyn Beatrice Longman.
An Art Institute of Chicago graduate, Longman became the first woman sculptor to be elected a full member of the National Academy of Design in 1919. Her “Putto on Seahorse” is held in the Minneapolis Institute of Art collection. She created some of the sculptural decorations for the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C.
Known as the Golden Boy and created as the Genius of Telegraphy in 1916, the cast bronze sculpture stood atop 195 Broadway in Lower Manhattan. At the time, it was the second tallest figural sculpture in New York City. You can see images online showing it in reference to the Statue of Liberty and the Woolworth Building.
This type of proud, energetic sculpture has been lost in our era of the abstract. We aren’t so interested in the scientific, or the promise of technology – at least not boasting of that confidence through public art. So what does the Genius sculpture mean to the restaurant-goers in AT&T Plaza sitting pretty close and not wearing masks?
It’s a more “truth in jest” joke around here that Dallas thinks of itself as being New-York-like. So in some sense, it feels at home here. It does seem a bit odd sitting in the middle of the pedestrian mall. The Golden Boy should be grabbing the electricity from the sky! But it does offer the opportunity to see it up close in all its glory.
All that aside, even if the Golden Boy is just a remnant from another era, it’s pretty great still. It’s gold and shiny and more than a little pretentious. It’s a lot New Yorky and so I think Dallasites will come to love it. And we’re lucky to have it here on the AT&T campus.