Emily Bedard, 23, didn’t expect to receive her first art commission before she’d even graduated from art school.
But when her professor approached her with a chance to re-create a historic statue, she couldn’t turn it down.
“It’s really hard to get work as an artist, so I was just really thrilled to have the opportunity,” Bedard said.
Bedard, now a graduate of Lyme Academy College of the Fine Arts in Old Lyme, Conn., recently remade the “Lady Liberty” statue that stands atop the Soldiers and Sailors Civil War monument at Seaside Park in Bridgeport, Conn.
The original, built in 1876 by Melzar Hunt Mosman, was vandalized in 1969, and its perch had been vacant ever since.
Forty-one years to the day it was stolen, Bedard reinstalled the 6-foot-6-inch, 200-pound statute to its rightful place on Thursday, Sept. 16.
The coincidence was not planned, said Tom Errichetti, treasurer of the Friends of Seaside Park non-profit group that commissioned the project.
“It means it was meant to be,” he said.
Restoring Lady Liberty
After 9/11, Errichetti decided it was time for the gaping hole in the Soldiers and Sailors monument to be filled.
“I felt that it was important to remember the individuals from Bridgeport who had died during the Civil War,” he said. “I wanted to bring the full monument back to its full glory.”
So Errichetti contacted Suzanne Kachmar, director of the City Lights art gallery. Kachmar knew Lyme Academy professor Jim Reed, who immediately suggested Bedard.
“When I saw her diploma project, I knew she was very talented and had been trained well,” Kachmar said. “I knew what I was looking at, and I was very impressed.”
Bedard, a 2005 graduate of Milton High School, accepted the $7,500 commission and set to work researching Mosman’s original statue.
The process was not easy: the only photos of the monument were in old newspaper clippings and postcards at very low resolution.
“I was lucky to get a sliver of an alternate angle,” Bedard said.
For two months, Bedard researched sculptures of the period with the antique-Greek style. Once she settled on a design, Bedard welded a metal frame and built up the clay. Sculpting took seven months and building the mold another two.
Bedard then cast the sculpture using a mixture of gypsum cement, resin and Fiberglas (The original was marble.) A year later, the sculpture was finished.
The end result is an “armed liberty,” a woman wearing armor, wielding a sword and holding a laurel wreath to represent victory.
Bedard is happy with the final product, though the process was overwhelming at times, she said.
“I just felt like, ‘I’m just out of school; I shouldn’t be doing this. I’m not ready,’” she said. “I just had to work through it and persevere. I learned a lot about sticking with it and working hard and even when you’re having a bad day, just working through it.”
When discouraged, Bedard would remind herself that doing this work was exactly what she always wanted to do.
“I just had to make sure that I appreciated it,” she said, adding, “It’s nice to see it completed.”
Her colleagues in Bridgeport couldn’t agree more.
Errichetti was extremely pleased with Bedard’s work, he said. Now that the project is finished, the Friends of Seaside Park group will disband but on a high note, he said.
“This is the crème de la crème of what we’ve accomplished,” he said. “She did an outstanding job. I couldn’t have asked for anything better.”
For Mary Witkowski of the Bridgeport History Center, Bedard’s sculpture not only filled a hole in the monument but also in Seaside Park.
“It’s something we’ve been missing for years,” Witkowski said. “It is something we should all embrace.”
To Witkowski, understanding the statue’s significance requires a peek into Seaside Park’s history.
The park was formed in the 1860s by General William Noble and then-mayor P.T. Barnum, the famed circus showman. It was designed by Frederick Law Olmsted, the architect behind Manhattan’s Central Park. The late 1800s introduced statues of Barnum and Elias Howe, the inventor of the sewing machine.
“[Bedard’s] statue is now in that kind of park,” Witkowski said. “That’s a really good notch in her sculptor’s belt.”
For Kachmar, the statue represents Bridgeport’s diversity, especially since the original was commissioned by the city’s Ladies’ and Colored Ladies’ Aid societies following the Civil War.
She was also excited to discover Bedard’s link to Mosman, the original statue’s sculptor: Bedard’s aunt goes to church with one of Mosman’s descendents.
She also pointed to an old Charlie Chaplin film called “City Lights.” In the opening scene, Chaplin sits at the foot of a sculpture about to be unveiled.
Though the connections are slight, to Kachmar it means, “All this is good karma.”
Bedard was happy to contribute to Seaside Park’s history and felt the project gave back to her country. She recalled times when military recruiters would be let down when she told them she wanted to be an artist.
“They said, ‘I guess you can’t do that in the military,’” Bedard said, laughing. “[But now], I feel like I am doing my patriotic duty.”
Bedard said she feels lucky that her statue stands alongside other famous figures.
“I’m just sort of beside myself,” Bedard said. “I’m really honored to be getting shown in the same room of those people. I’m not sure I feel worth enough to be there yet, but it’s cool. It’s all new.”
Bedard’s sculpture was rededicated at a ceremony on Saturday, Sept. 18. Lady Liberty has now returned to Seaside Park’s highest point, overlooking Long Island Sound and beckoning Bridgeport’s soldiers and sailors home.