On January 28, on the occasion of the 165th anniversary of the birth of José Martí, a replica of the first equestrian statue of Cuba’s National Hero will be officially unveiled.
The 8.5-ton bronze piece arrived to Cuba from the United States at the beginning of October, 2017, and was placed in the 13 de Marzo Park, situated in Old Havana, on a black granite base, exactly like the original, located between those of Bolívar and San Martín, in New York’s Central Park, and with the same inscriptions in Spanish and English, which read as follows:
“Apostle of Cuban independence. Leader of the peoples of America and defender of human dignity. His literary genius vied with his political foresight. He was born in Havana on January 28, 1853. For fifteen years of his exile he lived in the city of New York. He died in action at Dos Ríos, in Oriente Province on May 19, 1895.”
The artist behind the piece, which portrays Martí wounded and dying, ennobled by the idea that he is sacrificing his life for a just and exceptional cause, was already in her old age when she began the sculpture. Her name was Anna Hyatt Huntington.
At the time, the sculptor lived at Stanerigg Farm, a rural property of little more than 300 hectares, with two lakes in the center that served as gigantic mirrors to the small hills that bordered them. This is how Cuban journalist José Antonio Cabrera described it, who in the summer of 1957 went to report on the statue, alongside photographer Osvaldo Salas, at that time a correspondent for the magazine Bohemia in New York. At the time, the artist was finishing the equestrian statue of Martí, which would soon be sent to the foundry to be cast.
There, Anna told Salas and Cabrera that they were the first to see and take photographs of the initial phase of the work. She was 81 years old and had recently been widowed. Her husband Archer Milton Huntington was a wealthy American philanthropist, a great Hispanist, and a friend of Gonzalo de Quesada and Professor José García Mazas, prominent Cubans who lived in New York.
Archer Milton donated to Cuba another equestrian statue by his wife Anna. A work that the island has treasured for more than half a century, located by a busy intersection in Havana, in a small park on the corners of Ayestarán and 20 de Mayo Streets and titled The Hispanic Cultural Legacy.
Salas shared the love story behind these statues, with a certain irony that was typical of his character. In 1927, Archer had promised that to each work that Anna sculpted, he would dedicate a poem. However, Archer Milton didn’t live long enough to write a poem dedicated to Martí, as Anna had not yet finished the statue of the Apostle.
Meanwhile, before personally meeting the U.S. artist, these Cuban journalists were doubtful whether she would be able to finish the piece, given her age. However, as Cabrera reported, all their doubts faded away when they shook her hands and felt her strength, gained through her work with plaster, plasticine, marble and using the chisel.
According to the report, the sculptor told them: “You should know that I am an enemy of publicity and that it was only at the request of Professor Mazas, who impressed upon me that Cubans have the right to see what I am doing with their hero, that I have agreed to this interview.”
She added: “My husband had a deep respect for the work of Martí... I learned to love your Apostle in the same way that I loved all the things that made my husband happy. Through your compatriot Gonzalo de Quesada, I learned a huge amount about Martí’s work, from his struggles for the independence of his homeland, to his character. Without Quesada’s collaboration, my work would have been impossible. Above all, I see in Martí a deep intellectual spirit and a man of a rare and exquisite sensitivity.”
Havana City Historian Eusebio Leal and his Office were committed to the idea of uniting Cubans and Americans in the effort to place a replica of the unique statue in the colonial environment of the Cuban capital. Finally, the New York City Department of Parks & Recreation authorized the request.
The replica was financed through donations from U.S. citizens, numerous members of the Cuban community living in the United States, and other donors from around the world through the “Friends of José Martí Sculpture Project.”
As Leal noted, the project was supported by the Bronx Museum of the Arts and led by its Executive Director, Holly Block, until her death in October 2017. The efforts of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Cuba and the island’s missions in Washington and New York also contributed to making the project a reality.
The Havana City Historian’s Office informed that the replica of this great monument to the Apostle was made possible thanks to the joint work of the Restaura and Puerto Carena enterprises, and its own Investment Office, under the advice of the Bronx Museum.
The City Historian describes the work sculpted in bronze and dedicated to Martí as “colossal.”
For him and all Cubans, it represents another example of the relations between the peoples of the United States and Cuba, that have existed over time, and continue today.
WHO WAS ANNA HYATT HUNTINGTON
The sculptor of the equestrian statue representing the moment of Marti’s death was the daughter of the eminent American paleontologist Alpheus Hyatt. She studied at the National Academy of Design, with professors Hermon MacNeil and Gutzon Borglum.
The French government made her a Chevalier of the Legion of Honor for her equestrian statue of Joan of Arc, the original of which was located on Riverside Drive, New York, with replicas in Blois, San Francisco and Quebec. She won the Rodin Gold Medal from the Plastics Club in Philadelphia and the National Academy of Design’s Saltus Gold Medal. She was a member of the Royal Catalan Academy of Fine Arts of Saint George, and winner of the Shaw Prize and the Gold Medal of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. She was honored with Spain’s Grand Cross of Isabel the Catholic and Grand Cross of Alfonso the XII.
Among her most outstanding works are two bas-relief pieces of Don Quixote, in limestone; the statue of Cid Campeador, the original of which is located in Seville, with replicas in Buenos Aires, San Diego and San Francisco; the statue of Joan of Arc, in the Cathedral Church of Saint John the Divine, in New York; and that of Diana Cazadora, which was presented to the Cuban government to be placed in Havana’s Palacio de Bellas Artes.