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Sunday, August 20, 2017

Gloversville's "Thinking Doughboy": A Quiet Yet Powerful World War I Memorial

Gloversville, NY.  Doughboy World War I Memorial by Karl Illava, 1923. Photo: Samuel Gruber 2017.
Gloversville, NY.  Doughboy World War I Memorial by Karl Illava, 1923. Photo: Samuel Gruber 2017.
Gloversville's "Thinking Doughboy": A Quiet Yet Powerful World War Memorial
by Samuel D. Gruber

I've been reading Herbert Engel's Shtetl in the Adirondacks: The Story of Gloversville and Its Jews (Purple Mountain Press, 1991), so I took a detour from the New York Thruway the other day to visit Gloversville, which sits at the southern edge of the Adirondacks and was once the glove-making capital of the world. The town was so invested in its glove making that it changed its name in 1828 to reflect its status. In 1890–1950, 90% of all gloves sold in the United States were made there.

My goal in Gloversville was to search for traces of industrialist-financier-politican-philanthropist Lucius N. Littauer who in the first half of the 20th century came to be styled  "The Jewish Carnegie". An impressive Gloversville synagogue, mostly paid for by Littauer and modeled on the then-recently built Carnegie Library no longer stands but is remembered in postcards, and a commemorative statue of Littauer by Austrian sculptor Victor Frisch still looks out at the intersection of North Main Street and Prospect Avenue. I'll write more about Littauer's legacy on my other blog Samuel Gruber's Jewish Art and Monuments.

A pleasing surprise to me on the visit was the World War I Memorial situated about twenty feet away from the Littauer statue. Until recently, a High School stood behind these statues, providing a more impressive backdrop.

 While Littauer stands assertively at the corner, the Gloversville's Doughboy, sculpted by Karl Illava (1896–1954), is set back back several paces from the roadway, in a quiet almost recessive pose. It is one of the most psychologically reflective War Monuments I've encountered. Long before depictions of typical Vietnam "grunts," this serious and sensitive depiction of an American World War I soldier at rest captures the heroic - but exhausting - life of the everyday soldier.

I immediately thought of ancient prototypes such as the Hellenistic Terme Boxer (Box at Rest), discovered in Rome in 1885, and now on view at the Palazzo Massimo alle Terme, and was recently on view at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, (see video and history).

Gloversville, NY.  Doughboy World War I Memorial by Karl Illava, 1923. Photo: Samuel Gruber 2017.
Rome, Italy. Terme Boxer. Photo: Samuel Gruber 2003.
The Bronze Doughboy statue was sculpted by Karl Morningstar Illava (1896–1954), cast by the American Art Foundry (NY), and dedicated on Nov. 12, 1923.

It sits on a granite base inscribed with the compelling and somewhat ominous words:

 Lest We Forget

It Ye Break Faith With Us Who Died
We Shall Not Sleep
1917-1918
Gloversville, NY.  Doughboy World War I Memorial by Karl Illava, 1923. Photo: Samuel Gruber 2017.

Not much information is readily available about Illava, who studied and worked with Gutzon Borglum before the war, and afterward made several monuments and submitted other designs in competitions. Curiously, given my interest in Jewish artists, it ishappily coincidental that Illava was Jewish through his mother Judith Eugenia Salzedo Peixotto, a descendant of some of America's oldest Jewish families. Whether he was a practicing Jew or identified as Jewish or not, his name is listed with those of Jewish soldiers in the American Jewish Yearbook of 1918 (p. 208), where is named as a lieutenant in the cavalry. His brother Percy Piexotto Morningstar was a lieutenant in aviation.

Gloversville, NY.  Doughboy World War I Memorial by Karl Illava, 1923. Photo: Samuel Gruber 2017.
Gloversville, NY.  Doughboy World War I Memorial by Karl Illava, 1923. Photo: Samuel Gruber 2017.
This monument is very different from Illava's much better known dynamic group of World War I soldiers in Central Park donated by the Seventh Regiment New York 107th United Infantry Memorial Committee and dedicated a few years later, in 1927.  That group of “doughboys” is comprised of  active poses and seems to advance out Central Park at East 67th Street.  Illava knew the life of the active and restful soldier firsthand.

New York, NY.  107th Infantry World War I Memorial, Central Park, by Karl Illava, 1927. Photo: Samuel Gruber 2005.
New York, NY.  107th Infantry World War I Memorial, Central Park, by Karl Illava, 1927. Photo: Samuel Gruber 2005.