COLLECTION: Decorative Sculpture

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Origin: America, New York, New York
Overall: 63 1/2 x 17 x 14in., 71lb. (161.3 x 43.2 x 35.6cm, 32.2kg)
Southern yellow pine, gilded.
Gift of the John D. Rockefeller, 3rd, Fund, Inc., through the generosity and interest of Mrs. John D. Rockefeller, 3rd, and members of the family
Acc. No. 1979.701.6
A full-length, approximately three-quarter life-size, carved and gilded female figure nearly in the round, her back hollowed out. Her feet rest on a saucer-shaped support having a scallop shell carved on its underside, suggesting she was seen from slightly below. She holds her voluminous skirts up in her proper L hand; her proper R arm is bent, that hand supporting pan-pipes held in front of her proper R breast. Her toga-like top falls from a clasp at the proper R shoulderd and falls below her belted waistline, with an ankle-length skirt beneath. She is bare footed, all her weight on her proper R foot, the proper L knee bent showing beneath a fastening in the skirt.
Label:As the business of trade figure carving dwindled in the late nineteenth century, many of its practitioners transitioned to the decoration of circus wagons. These were special vehicles used to transport bands, performers, and caged animals in formal parades through city streets, thereby publicizing forthcoming performances. (Post-parade, the animal cages functioned as stationary displays.)

Circus owners vied with one another for public patronage, enticing crowds and drumming up excitement with ever larger, more fanciful wagons. Originally, the museum's figure was affixed to one of the outer corners of a wagon, hence the carved out area in her back. Photographs and records suggest that the carving ornamented one of the eleven or twelve vehicles ordered in 1882 from Fielding Brothers by P. T. Barnum and his partners. (Fielding subcontracted much of the carved decoration to Samuel A. Robb.) The Fielding commission resulted in some of the most elaborate circus wagons ever crafted in America.

The name Terpsichore (muse of dance and choral music) was given the figure in recent times because of the pan pipes she holds. Terpsichore's original vehicle was decorated in a musical theme, but it was not a bandwagon; it was an animal cage. (During one 1886 parade, it housed an Australian emu, a wart hog, and a pelican.)

At the end of the 1918 season, Fielding's 1882 wagons were retired to Barnum's winter quarters in Bridgeport, Connecticut, whence eventually some were sold, some damaged or destroyed by fire, and some left to rot. A number of individual carvings were reclaimed by collectors. By 1933, when Abby Aldrich Rockefeller acquired Terpsichore from a dealer, the figure was identified as a lawn ornament, its original use apparently having been forgotten. Mrs. Rockefeller used the carving as a decoration in the Tea House at Bassett Hall, the Williamsburg home she and John D. Rockefeller, Jr., occupied during their stays in town in the 1930s and 1940s.
Provenance:Purchased in 1933 from Edith Gregor Halpert, Downtown Gallery, New York, NY, by Mrs. John D. Rockefeller, Jr.; inherited by M/M John D. Rockefeller III; given to CWF in 1979.