Professor of Art and Architecture Ted Aub’s bronze sculpture of suffragette and Civil War veteran Mary Walker, M.D. wasn’t created to grace the halls of the National Women’s Hall of Fame. But after a journey through Upstate New York, and thanks to Aub’s generous donation, the 18” portrait will soon have a new home in Seneca Falls.
The sculpture was first created as a concept model for a life-size commission for the town hall in Walker’s hometown of Oswego, N.Y., Aub says, but in the end they chose another artist’s rendering instead. “I like to say I was first runner up in a field of two,” he says. The plaster rendition came back home to Aub’s studio, where it sat on the shelf among other realized an unrealized commissioned pieces.
At that point, Aub’s colleague, Professor of Women’s Studies Betty M. Bayer, immediate past president of the Hall of Fame, asked him for a piece of sculpture to auction off during a fundraiser. He gave them the plaster version of the Mary Walker sculpture. A board member bought it at auction and donated it back to the Hall of Fame.
“The next year they came back to me and they were doing another fund raiser, and I said alright, auction off the plaster one you now have, and I’ll replace it with a bronze one,” Aub says. A short time later, when casting bronze sculpture with students, he made the casting that will be installed after the Hall of Fame reopens this fall.
Aub says it took him several months of research and work to create the original sculpture. Before he began sculpting, he studied his subject to get a sense of her personality. “That’s how it starts: you’ve got to get a feeling for it, about the person and what she stands for,” he says.
In this case, he was somewhat familiar with Walker from his earlier work related to the history of women’s rights, which includes “When Anthony Met Stanton” and HWS’ own “Elizabeth Blackwell.” Walker volunteered with the Union Army and served as a surgeon in a temporary hospital in Washington, D.C. When she crossed enemy lines to treat wounded civilians, she was arrested as a spy and spent time in a Confederate prison where she nearly died.
Walker was the only woman to receive the Medal of Honor following the war, although it was later recalled but then restored by President Carter in 1977. Aub’s statue depicts a uniformed Walker, weary from the trials of war, wearing her Medal of Honor and holding a planted sword. He conjured the statue of Joan of Arc as a conceptual precedent.
“She was a petite woman, but very strong,” says Aub. “I wanted to portray the fact that she was embattled as a first in her profession as well as on the battlefield. She had to create her own uniform, but she wore it with great pride.”
Throughout the rest of her life on speaking tours she lectured on health care, temperance, women’s rights and clothing reform for women. In that regard she was adamant in her right to wear clothing that she thought was appropriate. She became known for wearing top hat and tails, but she replied to criticism of her attire: “I don’t wear men’s clothes, I wear my own clothes.” But no matter her attire, she never relinquished her medal of honor that she wore proudly for the rest of her life.