Harriet Quimby Centenary Project
Peter Wallwork Naylor
Memorial - Design Concept & Description
Harriet Quimby was by any standards a remarkable woman. She had looks, personality and pioneering spirit. She combined many of the qualities that most people, male or female, hope to aspire to - and she did all this in an age when women had a very secondary role in society. Her aviation ability was outstanding for anyone but in 1912 it was a truly amazing performance for a woman. Her Hollywood face and figure and eye-catching purple satin flying suit combined with her obvious courage and ‘chutzpa’ to make her a perfect icon for the emancipation of women. Femininity and guts; bravura and style.
The memorial to Harriet Quimby has to get these qualities across to the public. This attractive young woman in her self-styled shiny jumpsuit and high-heeled boots may be clad in purple but she is no shrinking violet. This is a woman trying to take the world by storm and using all her charm and charisma to do it. This is a self-publicist shouting ‘Look at me! Look what I can do!’. The Pathe News archive film clip of her famous flight speaks volumes about her - the exotic fur-trimmed hat that she wears just before getting into the cockpit; the use of the attendant with a hand mirror to apply and check her make-up (!); another attendant to tie her flowing scarf. She may be a pilot but she is definitely a woman!
The figure of Harriet Quimby is therefore literally ‘larger than life’ and so in memoriam her sculpture is what she was in life. She stands about 8 ft. tall and with her victorious hand raised aloft she makes an even more imposing figure. She stands boldly with her hand confidently on her hip. She looks the world in the face. This is her moment.
In that sense, it is the moment that history denied her. It is partly because of the Titanic’s overshadowing of her achievement that this memorial has to be bold and loud. It has to compensate for a hundred years of relative obscurity. It has to retell the story that has been lost. The sculpture has to make people look at it and have them going away saying ‘I never knew that. She was quite some girl!’.
Together with the striking pose, the sculpture is bright purple - the iconic colour of Harriet Quimby. That in itself makes the sculpture remarkable; everyone knows it as the purple sculpture - it has instant recognisability, it is unique. It is a rich deep purple. Not only does it depict one of Harriet’s key features but it carries notions of royalty; it subconsciously imbues her with status. At night, the sculpture is gently lit by purple lights to enhance the effect still further. Dover is a summer seaside town - having the memorial illuminated creates even more of a tourist attraction - it becomes an evening stroll destination. The lights express Harriet’s sense of the theatrical; they add show-biz glamour.
The sculpture picks up the major aspects of Harriet Quimby and her crossing of the Channel - it depicts confidence, beauty, joyfulness and victory. The wide cuffed gloves and pilot’s goggles spell out aviation. Standing on Dover cliffs, with a backdrop of the English Channel you know what this sculpture represents even if you have never heard of Harriet’s achievement.
The details of her face with the goggles and a suggestion of the hood are cut out of the steel. The rest of the figure is simple silhouette. The sculpture is positioned so that the Channel is behind her. You look at her and through her at the scene of her triumph. On a clear day, the distant view of France is seen through Harriet’s cut out face - we see what she saw. In a sense, we literally see through her eyes.
When we go to the other side of her, we see towards Dover, towards England. She stands against her place of departure just as she stands in front of her destination. The two-sided nature of the silhouette makes this possible.
In technical terms, the sculpture is made of about ½” thick stainless steel plate and has a total height of about 9ft and width of about 3ft. Positioning it on a small raised grass mound increases its visual presence and allows it to dominate the surrounding area. The steel is powder coated to give it the purple finish. The stainless steel not only provides strength and huge longevity but also makes an ideal surface for the powder coating, especially in the saline environment of Dover cliffs. The sculpture has a slight curve to increase its robustness as well as enhancing the feminine aspect of it. It is bolted down onto a concrete sub-base so that any future maintenance can be easily performed but the bolts are hidden below surface paving to avoid tampering. The low value of ferrous metal means that there is no reason for scrapmetal theft to occur.
Finally then, this memorial to Harriet Quimby has what she had - it has presence bordering on audacity. It makes no apologies for what it is. It is not shy - it is bold but with definite female grace. In its costume it harks back to its 1912 period, but the form of the sculpture makes it totally contemporary giving it a modern relavance, especially to women. In a few ‘lines’ it puts Harriet Quimby back on the map, where she truly belongs. I think ultimately it is a memorial that Harriet herself would have welcomed.
© Peter Wallwork Naylor - October 2011
Inital drawing for sculpture - © Peter Wallwork Naylor - October 2011
Artist’s impression of sculpture against sky - © Peter Wallwork Naylor - October 2011
Artist’s impression of sculpture in situation - © Peter Wallwork Naylor - October 2011