Artifact of the month (January 2020)



Circa 1903 roundel with a deep relief female portrait bust wearing long hair, a necklace and lace garment, laurel and oak leaves flank the figure, each element has a symbolic meaning and purpose. The laurel leaves symbolize victory while the oak leaves symbolize strength.

So this female figure was associated with victory and strength.

Terracotta 25″ across, purchased from an antique store on Bleecker Street in 2009 for $1350. The roundel, which was salvaged in the 1950s from the Lower East Side  was probably from a tenement  East of Avenue D when the city built the “Projects,” originally she likely  had a separate border made of six sections.

The Brooklyn museum has one of these roundels with five of the six borders in their sculpture garden. The author has found photos of at least three extant buildings in Manhattan which have these same roundels on them, they are located at 431-441 East 80th Street, and 219 Grand Street.

The East 80th street buildings’ roundels have no borders while those on the Grand St facade do have them.

It is unknown who the portrait represents, but as should be obvious- the uncommon round shaped terracotta, and the prominent locations these were placed and on multiple buildings suggests that the figure represents either a historical  person of the day, or even someone important to the architect or building owner. It is dated to 1903 but after researching possibilities, about the only seemingly likely figure might be Jenny Lind, a much beloved popular female singer of the era but she died in 1887,

how about Emily Warren Roebling- the female engineer who completed the Brooklyn bridge died in 1903? or perhaps Julia Boggs Grant  who was the First Lady of the United States and wife of Ulysses S. Grant, she died in 1902? so many possibilities and no effective way to  pinpoint the “who” for sure.