Joan of Arc in Domremy
(Affectionately known to Longwood University friends and alumni as “Joanie on the Stonie”)
Joan of Arc at Domrémy is on view in the Rotunda of Ruffner Hall.
The plaster cast on view in Longwood University’s Rotunda is Henri-Michel-Antoine Chapu’s Joan of Arc inDomrémy . It was cast by the Boston firm of Caproni Brothers and purchased by the Class of 1914 as a gift to Longwood University(then State Female Normal School).The gift was inspired by class president Maria Adams Bristow Starke’s graduation speech, which urged members of the class to exemplify Saint Joan’s spirit, courage, and conviction to better the world around them.
Saint Joan may seem an odd choice as an emblem for a small Southern college. However, Joan of Arc had achieved cult status among Catholics and non-Catholics alike in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Her story of pious dedication and strength was deemed especially appropriate to the formation of young women, and it was no accident that plasters of Chapu’s image of Joan as a lovely young peasant girl ended up at Virginia’s four teachers colleges for women: in 1917 at the State Normal School for Women at Harrisonburg (now James Madison University) and eventually at Mary Washington and Radford. The sculpture arrived at Longwood from Boston in the summer of 1914 and was placed on view in the Rotunda shortly thereafter. The first depiction of the sculpture appeared in the 1918 yearbook as a frontispiece drawing; a photograph of the sculpture first appeared in the 1919 yearbook.
In 1870 Henri Chapu’s original plaster statue of Joan of Arc was praised as a symbol of French resistance against Prussian aggression. When it received honors at the 1870 Paris Salon(an annual exhibition that served as a clearinghouse for academically sanctioned art), the French government, as was the custom, commissioned a marble statue based on the plaster original. The work became well known.
Although most people today think of an “original” sculpture as one made in a durable material such as bronze or marble, that wasn’t always the case. Most important French sculptures were first exhibited as plasters and viewed in that form as respected works of art. In fact, many universities and cultural institutions such as Harvard and the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, possessed vast collections of plaster sculptures. During the 1950s and 1960s these plaster casts fell out of favor and were destroyed and replaced by versions in stone or bronze. Consequently,few fine plaster casts exist today.
By 2004 Longwood’s plaster Joan ofArc in Domrémy was in dire need of conservation. Accidental damage, inappropriate repairs, and even vandalism had exacted a toll, and the sculpture was in extremely poor condition. Thankfully, Longwood University President Dr. Patricia Cormier made the decision to restore the sculpture to its previous glory and place Joan in her original location in the Rotunda.
For the last four months the sculpture has resided in an objects conservation lab undergoing a painstaking restoration. Sharon Koehler, an Objects Conservator, worked with assistants to remove eight layers of paint and many unskilled plaster repairs. In the process of removing these materials, and in order to reveal the original plaster surface, Ms. Koehler discovered that the head had been severely broken and poorly reassembled. In February 2005 the head was x-rayed to assess its stability. The x-rays showed that it had been put back together with plaster (which has no long term adhesive property). The project faced other challenges, too. The sculpture’s circular base had suffered many large losses. Smaller areas of loss, including the second toe as well as portions of her scarf and skirt, had to be completely reconstructed. Fully 75 percent of the plaster surface had shallow losses such as carved graffiti which required filling.
Now, after much hard work and many long hours, the sculpture has been fully restored using current conservation methods and materials. A long term care and maintenance schedule has been established, and the sculpture has been equipped with an alarm system to guard against the possibility of future damage. Students are asked to treat the sculpture with respect so that future generation of students will be able to enjoy the spirit for which Joan of Arc stands.
Those with stories about or pictures of Joan of Arc in Domrémy are encouraged to contact the Longwood Center for the Visual Arts
129 North Main Street
Farmville, Virginia 23901
434 395 2206