Emerging Woman

I Corinthians 15:51-52

MOTHER, WIFE, ARTIST, AND SCIENTIST

SUSAN CERVENY COLBERT

JULY 27, 1947 – JANUARY 4, 1992

Marking the grave of Susan Colbert in St. Paul’s Rock Creek Cemetery in Washington, D.C., is a 6-foot bronze statue, sitting on a rose-colored, polished granite base, completed in 1995, titled, “Emerging Woman,” sculpted by Jay Hall Carpenter.

Carpenter is a world-renowned, award-winning sculptor who gained early fame from his monumental work on the National Cathedral in Washington, D.C. where he created over 500 carver’s models of angels, gargoyles, and saints for the massive gothic church. His work can be found at the State Department, the Smithsonian Institution, the New England Medical Center, Canterbury Cathedral, the Maryland State Capitol, and Saint Anne’s Catholic Church in Barrington, Illinois, among many others.  Notable works include a sculpture of Jim Henson and Kermit the Frog and a bronze statue of Douglas Fairbanks, Jr.

The bronze Carpenter created for Susan Colbert’s memorial shows a woman emerging from stone which is reminiscent of the brilliant sculptures that are on display at the Academy in Florence, Italy, of four slaves.  Michelangelo was carving the statues for the tomb of Pope Julius but the project was never completed.

In a blog post by David Leeds (August 21, 2011) titled, “Michelangelo at the Accademia, Part 2 – The Unfinished Slaves,” Leeds writes, “Michelangelo is famous for saying that he worked to liberate the forms imprisoned in the marble. He saw his job as simply removing what was extraneous. The endless struggle of man to free himself from his physical constraints and liberate the more enlightened spirit within….”

When one looks at the Carpenter bronze, Leeds could just as easily been describing the Colbert monument.  The woman is emerging from the rock, struggling to free herself.

Leeds writes, “The burden of the flesh constrains the soul. This is by far the most dynamic and expressive battleground of these forces I’ve ever encountered. The metaphor is inescapable.”

Another metaphor is possible and it relates to the Biblical verse that is inscribed on the base of the statue, I Corinthians 15:51-52, that says, 52—“Behold, I shew you a mystery; We shall not sleep, but we shall all be changed, 52 In a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trump, for the trumpet shall sound, and the dead shall be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed.

The sculpture may be the physical representation of the Bible verse, “…We shall not sleep …the trumpet shall sound, and the dead shall be raised incorruptible….”  In the same blogpost Leeds writes, “This piece is one of the most powerful and expressive works of art I’ve ever seen. The figure feels like it is writhing and straining, and going to imminently explode out of the marble block that holds it.”  Looking at the Colbert bronze, it is as if Leeds is writing about Carpenter’s bronze.  Leeds writes further, “The latent power one feels is extraordinary. Is this a Herculean effort to be born physically from the imprisoning stone, or a titanic struggle to escape the bounds of physical reality and move onto some other plane?

Often in funerary art the artist tries to convey the passage from one realm to another.  Sometimes it is depicted as a veil that is lifted so the soul can travel from the Earthly Realm to the Heavenly Realm.  Thus, this bronze could be a metaphor for the physical being struggling to be released from its mortal coil to escape to the next plane.

Susan Colbert was born July 27, 1947 in Baltimore, Maryland, and she passed away on January 4, 1992, the age of 44—a very young age for such an accomplished woman—IBM computer developer, member of the Junior League, consultant for NBC, scientist, mother of two, and wife.  The title of the sculpture, Emerging Woman, might also be a reference to a woman who was coming into her own—in the prime of her powers.  It could be that the sculpture represents all three metaphors.

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