The Athena Statue
Backstory and Context
The nine-foot-tall Statue of Athena stands outside the entrance to Classic Center on N Thomas St. in Athens. In 1993, the Project Athena organization formed to commemorate the upcoming 1996 summer Olympics (for which Athens and the University of Georgia hosted events for soccer, volleyball, and rhythmic gymnastics)1 through public art. Sculptor and curator for Brenau University's art galleries Jean Westmacott received the commission in 1994.2 Westmacott’s plaster cast of Athena went on display at Lyndon House in Athens in January 1995,3 where the cast remained until the unveiling of the finished Athena Statue on May 3rd, 1996, two months before the start of the Olympic Games.4 Project Athena was a privately funded effort, relying on donations of any amount from the citizens and students of Athens5 to design, sculpt, and erect the $105,000 statue.6
The Athena Statue was carved from white marble in Carrera, Italy,7 and designed to mimic the classical style often associated with ancient Greek sculpture. Westmacott modeled Athena after Lara Magzan; Magzan was Westmacott’s student assistant in Brenau's galleries and is from the Balkans region across the Adriatic Sea from Greece.8 At her left side Athena holds a shield decorated with a circular pattern of olive leaves, and over her right shoulder she holds a cloak. Westmacott drew inspiration from an ancient Athenian tradition: “There were two statues of Athena in the Parthenon [in Athens, Greece]. The smaller statue was the focus of a procession that occurred every four years, and part of the event was to bring a new ‘peplos’ or cloak to Athena.”9 Therefore, the cloak that was once representative of a gift to Athena now represents the Athena Statue itself, which is a gift to the city of Athens (Georgia) from its citizens. The circle of olive leaves on Athena’s shield “can be interpreted as the Olympic laurel wreath.”10
Athena rests on a pedestal of topaz blue granite.11 Picture 2 shows that on the surface of the pedestal facing Thomas Street is an oath and its explanation. ” On a lower level of the base is etched “Athena.” On the south face of the pedestal are inscribed the words “Arts” and “Athletics;” on the eastern side facing the Classic Center are “Industry,” “Commerce,” and “Agriculture;” and on the north side are “Wisdom” and “Learning.”
When the Athena Statue was announced in 1994, response from the community was mixed. Some opposed the construction of a statue of a pagan goddess.12 Others hoped that such a crowd-funded project would serve to unite the community through public art,13 and still others held no opinion of the statue or didn’t know much about the project.14 Despite some past opposition, since its unveiling, the Athena statue has become a symbol for Athens-Clarke County. In August 2016, the Athens-Clarke County police officers began wearing badges depicting City Hall flanked on either side by Athena.15 On January 21st, 2017, the Athena Statue became the rallying point for Athens’s Women’s March, which attracted hundreds of protesters.16
1--Thomas, Frances T. "Athens"
2--Horton, Denise "Lasting Art"
3--Greenia, Dennis F. "City Pages: 8 Foot Athena"
4--Kumarhia, Charu "Granite Goddess graces Classic City"
5--"Project Athena and the unifying fund-raiser"
6--Almon, Cathy "Grant to pay for Athena Statue"
7--Horton, Denise "Lasting Art"
8--Horton, Denise "Lasting Art"
9--"Statue of Athena- About the Statue"
10--"Statue of Athena- About the Statue"
11--Kumarhia, Charu "Granite Goddess graces Classic City"
12--McCommons, Pete "Opponents of Athena Statue May Open up a Pandora's Box"
13--"Project Athena and the unifying fund-raiser"
14--McCommons, Pete "Opponents of Athena Statue May Open up a Pandora's Box"
15--Johnson, Joe "New police badges and patches reflect uniqueness of Athens"
16--Thompson, Jim "Athens joins cities hosting women's rights marches"
Thomas, Frances T. "Athens". New Georgia Encyclopedia. July 27, 2017. Accessed April 14, 2018. https://www.georgiaencyclopedia.org/articles/counties-cities-neighborhoods/athens.
Horton, Denise. "Lasting Art." Brenau Window. June 29, 2015. Accessed April 07, 2018. https://window.brenau.edu/articles/lasting-art/.
Greenia, Dennis F. "City Pages: 8 Foot Athena." Flagpole Magazine. January 25, 1995.
Kumarhia, Charu. "Granite Goddess graces Classic City." The Red and Black (Athens) May 03, 1996.
"Project Athena and the unifying fund-raiser." The Red and Black (Athens) May 16, 1994. Editorial.
Almon, Cathy. "Grant to pay for Athena Statue." The Red and Black (Athens) October 29, 1996.
"Statue of Athena." Athens-Clarke County. Accessed April 12, 2018. https://www.athensclarkecounty.com/89/Statue-of-Athena.
McCommons, Pete. "Opponents of Athena Statue May Open up a Pandora's Box." Flagpole Magazine. May 17, 1995.
Johnson, Joe. "New police badges and patches reflect uniqueness of Athens." Athens Banner-Herald, August 06, 2016. Accessed April 20, 2018. http://www.onlineathens.com/mobile/2016-08-06/new-police-badges-and-patches-reflect-uniqueness-athen....
Thompson, Jim. "Athens joins cities hosting women's marches." Athens Banner-Herald, January 21, 2017. Accessed April 20, 2018. http://www.onlineathens.com/local-news/2017-01-21/athens-joins-cities-hosting-women-s-rights-marches.