History in Bronze: The Spirit of Life

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SARATOGA SPRINGS, N.Y. (NEWS10)—The Spirit of Life statue and the Spencer Trask Memorial cover the northwestern section of the National Historic Landmark, Congress Park which is in the heart of downtown Saratoga Springs. The memorial offers wide walkways, plenty of shade in the summertime, and a babbling brook that feeds the pond.

“Spencer Trask was a wealthy financier out of New York City. He and his wife had a retreat up here in Saratoga Springs,” said Samantha Bosshart, Executive Director for the Saratoga Springs Preservation Foundation. “He is really largely responsible for passing the legislation to protect the waters of the springs in Saratoga.”

The Spirit of Life statue is just part of the entire Spence trask Memorial in Congress Park.

Trask was born in Brooklyn, in 1844 and completed a course of study at Brooklyn Polytechnic Institute, now the New York University Tandon School of Engineering. He then attended Princeton University in 1866. Trask supported new inventions throughout his life and helped finance Thomas Edison, the light bulb’s inventor. Trask died on New Year’s Eve 1909 in a train accident, and soon after, a statue was commissioned to celebrate his life and achievements.

“The memorial to him was commissioned by Katrina Trask, his wife, and his best friend George Foster Peabody,” Bosshart said.

Daniel Chester French was commissioned in 1913 to create the sculpture, and his first model of the piece was rejected.

The model used for the statue was Rochester native Audrey Munson, known as Miss Manhattan and said to be the first supermodel. The rose flower on the back of the head represented Katrina Trask and the pine bawl is Spencer Trask’s representative.

“It was not as uplifting or buoyant as Katrina had hoped,” explained Bosshart.

After a redesign, a change was made in the material for the statue. Katrina Trask wanted it made from marble, but a more uplifting design that included a fountain meant bronze was chosen instead. Katrina was worried that the bronze would darken over time and take away from the sculpture’s uplifting spirit. French went to work and came up with an alloy to keep the bronze a golden hew with just a cleaning once or twice a year.

The Spencer Trask Memorial saw a major renovation in 2015 and rededication for its Centennial.

“We did a comprehensive restoration of the whole memorial. And actually, the sculpture restoration was the most inexpensive aspect of the restoration project,” remarked Bosshart. “The overall restoration of the memorial includes the sidewalks, the restoration of the light fixtures, the benches, and the landscape and repairing aspects of the architecture surrounding the sculpture and the east seating area.”

Even in winter Congress Park and the Spencer Trask Memorial see visitors coming and going.

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