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Madonna of the Trail (New Mexico)

Historic Sites, Monuments, Landmarks, and Public Art ()

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This is of one 12 statues found in 12 different states dedicated to pioneer women in American History and migration. These statues were commissioned by the National Society of Daughter of the American Revolution. The 12 statues and 12 states are along the old National Old Trails Road that runs from Cumberland, Maryland to Upland California. The dedications for each took place 1928-1929, with Albuquerque's taking place on September 27, 1928.

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Madonna of the Trail is a series of 12 monuments dedicated to the spirit of pioneer women in the United States. The monuments were commissioned by the National Society of Daughters of the American Revolution (NSDAR). They were installed in each of the 12 states along the National Old Trails Road, which extended from Cumberland, Maryland, to Upland, California.

Created by sculptor August Leimbach and funded by contributions, the Madonna of the Trail monuments were intended to provide a symbol of the courage and faith of the women whose strength and love aided so greatly in conquering the wilderness and establishing permanent homes. Dedicated in 1928 and 1929, the twelve statues became sources of local pride. Through the continuing efforts of local and national groups, all are currently in good condition and on display.

In 1911, the National Society Daughters of the American Revolution (NSDAR) established a national committee known as the National Old Trails Road Committee. It worked to establish the Old Trails Road as a great National Memorial Highway. In 1912 the National Old Trails Road Association was organized, and the roadway became known as the National Old Trails Road. The group wanted to recognize the contributions of women with a statue to be erected in each of the twelve states connected by the National Road. The committee chair, Judge (and future U.S. president) Harry S. Truman, guaranteed the expense of the erection of the monuments. A design was completed in 1927.

Truman, at that time the President of the National Old Trails Association, attended the dedication in Albuquerque, on September 27, 1928, of its statue. This monument was re-dedicated 44 years later on September 27, 1972.

Arlene B. Nichols Moss, chairwoman of the DAR Committee, envisioned a statue similar to one she had seen in Portland, Oregon by the Denver sculptor Alice Cooper. Sacajawea and Jean-Baptiste (1905), located in Washington Park, features Sacagawea, the Shoshone Native American woman who helped guide Meriwether Lewis and William Clark on their search for a water route to the Pacific Ocean. An acquaintance recommended the sculptor August Leimbach of St. Louis, Missouri. He created the design which was finally approved by Moss and cast the twelve monuments. As executed, the statue bears little to no resemblance to Cooper's Sacagawea.

In the Summer 1928 issue of The Federal Illustrator Magazine, Leimbach described his work. "The monument, 'The Madonna of the Trail' was modeled for art-stone (granite) and done in a time less than a month, to be placed in 12 states, from Maryland to California as a trail marker on the old National Trails.

"The idea I had, when I modeled the design was this: The pioneer mother with her children was waiting for the father at their blockhouse in the wild West, for the father did not come home as he had promised. She, believing him to be in danger, put her little child in a blanket, grasped the gun and with the boy ran out in the field to look for the father.

"The gun is sketched from the gun of Daniel Boone, with his carvings on the shaft. On the ground is prairie grass and cactus brushes, also arrowheads, and on one side in the shadows, there is visible in the original, a rattlesnake, partly covered by grass.

"When I was a schoolboy in the old country, the American History of the pioneer days made a deep impression on me. I thought often of those who had left the old home and all that was dear to them and had come to this country to find a field for their ambition.

"When I came to America, I often saw these people of the pioneer type, strong and brave and always ready to protect themselves against any danger. Asked to make a sketch model for a monument of a woman of pioneer days, I was inspired by my own impression of these people I had met, and the Madonna of the Trail is the result."

The statues feature a pioneer woman clasping a baby with her left arm while clutching a rifle with her right. Her young son clings to her skirts. The figure stands ten feet high and weighs five tons. The figure and the base are made of algonite stone (a poured mass) of which Missouri granite is used as the main aggregate. The monument has a warm, pink shade. With the base, the monuments are about 18 feet high. The inscriptions on the east and west sides of each base are the same, but the north and south sides of each monument usually include local information as well.

As of 2005, all 12 monuments are still available for public viewing, although several have been relocated short distances due to highway improvements, etc. Many have been refurbished and re-dedicated since the 1970s. Community groups in each state are watchful for the conditions and security of each Madonna monument.

More on Albuquerque's Madonna from the National Park Service:

"One of the earliest public memorial sculptures in New Mexico, Madonna of the Trail, in Albuquerque has been a local landmark since 1928 when the mayor led a parade from a downtown hotel to the public plaza.  Bands played patriotic songs at the unveiling of the robust pioneer mother before a crowd of 500 local citizens.  Cast in a pinkish mixture of crushed marble, Missouri granite, stone, cement, and lead ore, the stern-faced five-ton Madonna commemorates the contributions made by women on the road west.

The 18-foot Amazon had sisters.  The National Society of Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR) erected 12 identical statues across the country during late 1920s. The idea for the statues began in 1909, when a group of women formed a committee to advocate the locating and marking of the Old Santa Fe Trail in Missouri.  The effort quickly sparked successive groups tied to the DAR and dedicated to establishing an Old Trails Road--a modern highway that both connected the country’s coasts and memorialized United States exploration and settlement.  The DAR discussed various ways of marking the route and ultimately decided to construct the 12 large markers titled “The Madonna of the Trail.”  Between 1928 and 1929, the DAR placed Madonnas in Springfield, Ohio; Wheeling, West Virginia; Council Grove, Kansas; Lexington, Missouri; Lamar, Colorado; Albuquerque, New Mexico; Springerville, Arizona; Vandalia, Illinois; Richmond, Indiana; Beallsville, Pennsylvania; Upland, California; and Bethesda, Maryland--one in every State through which the National Old Trails Road passed.

The one on the central square in Albuquerque was number six.  Santa Fe, however, almost got the statue. The reason Albuquerque got the statue in the end is because the monument did not blend well with the Spanish-style art and architecture of Santa Fe. And, more to the point, the Albuquerque DAR chapter came up with funds to ship the monument before the Santa Fe chapter did.

Not everyone in Albuquerque was pleased with the new piece of public art.  At least one citizen, Mary Austin, voiced her negative opinion in the press. She wrote, “not only is the statue indifferent art, but as a descendant of a long line of Pioneer Mothers myself . . . I regard the proposed monument a caricature.”  To be fair, the melodramatic design was reflective of the patriotic zeal of its era.  Sculptor August Leimbach was straightforward in expressing his admiration for his no-nonsense female paragon of frontier strength wearing remarkably durable boots.  According to Leimbach, the idea he had in mind was that this strapping woman was waiting for her husband at a block house in the West.  The father had not arrived home as promised.  Baby in one arm, gun in the other, and an extra child clinging to her skirts, the granite Madonna strides out to search the horizon. 

Aesthetic objections aside, Albuquerque welcomed the monument with open arms.  It was placed in the city’s McClellan Park facing Route 66, the main highway through the city. The statue looked out on Route 66 until 1937 when a new alignment moved the highway south to Central Avenue. 

In 1996, the sculpture was in need of cleaning and repair.  Restoration work included removal of the soot and dirt and repair of holes and gouges with mortar.  Following its restoration, the statue was relocated approximately 100 feet north of its old location, due to the construction of a new Federal courthouse on the block.  The monument was rededicated at its new site on September 27, 1998. 

Although moved a short distance, the monument continues to be oriented toward the 1926-1937 era roadbed of Route 66 through the city. The Albuquerque monument retains its integrity of setting, design, and feeling. The only other Madonna that has retained its integrity is the one in Upland, California.  The Albuquerque Madonna of the Trail was listed in the National Register of Historic Places in 2006. The Albuquerque statue remains a local landmark, a physical remnant of 1920s ideas about the connection between trans-Atlantic automobile travel and western settlement, and a tribute to the women who helped move the country westward along its earliest roadbeds."

Sources

Bauer, Fern Ioula (1984) The Historic Treasure Chest of the Madonna of the Trail, J. McEnaney Printing; Springfield, Ohio

Address
Marble Ave NW & 4th St NW
Albuquerque, NM 87102
Tags
  • Cultural History
  • Urban History
  • Women’s History
  • Western/National Expansion
This location was created on 2017-06-09 by Mike Emett .   It was last updated on 2018-04-16 by Cynthia Prescott .

This entry has been viewed 188 times within the past year

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