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'Diana' has been museum icon for 40 years

August 10, 2008|By ELIZABETH JOHNS Special to The Herald-Mail

Editor's note: This is the third in a series of profiles of artwork featured this October in the book and exhibition, "One Hundred Stories: Highlights from the Washington County Museum of Fine Arts."

Installed in the rotunda of the Washington County Museum of Fine Arts, Anna Hyatt Huntington's "Diana of the Chase" is visible not only to viewers inside the museum but to strollers in City Park.

In this 8-foot-tall sculpture, Diana, the Roman goddess of the hunt, has just released an arrow from her bow. Accompanied by her hunting dog, a whippet, she stands on a sphere that represents another of her attributes: her role as goddess of the moon, or Luna. Over the centuries, the several mythological aspects of Diana (she also is the goddess of chastity) have inspired sculpture, tapestries, operas, poems and paintings.

Anna Hyatt Huntington (1876-1973), the sculptor, had a rough start as an artist. When she was a child, her father, a zoologist, encouraged her to draw from nature. But her family felt that it was undignified for a woman to be a sculptor. Despite that, Huntington developed a highly successful professional career.

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Huntington gave Diana to the museum in 1941 to celebrate the institution's 10th anniversary. She had friends in Hollywood as well as New York and said that her model for Diana was Bette Davis. After sketching from the model and working up her plans in clay, Huntington had the sculpture cast in bronze in several parts. The parts were then welded together, the seams hidden, and the surface coated with a dark patina. The resulting sculpture, a heavy alloy of copper and tin, weighs 1,000 pounds.

"Diana of the Chase" was installed in the museum's rotunda in 1968. For more than 50 years, the rotunda had been open to visitors who entered the museum from the park; in 1998 the space was glassed in and a new entrance created for the museum.

Visitors to the park can still see the sculpture from outside, and because it has become so well known, it is now the icon of the museum in publications, banners and correspondence.

Elizabeth Johns is a guest curator with the Washington County Museum of Fine Arts. She is curating the museum's "One Hundred Stories" this fall.

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