Sunday, April 9, 2017

Amanda Straw Snyder: The Dance of Eternal Spring

The Dance of Eternal Spring
Italian Lake, Harrisburg
The sun had barely risen in the sky when I arrived at the small cemetery that rested in the shadow of the Blue Mountain. Crossing the damp grass I paused at the entrance gate to the old cemetery.

Before I even entered, I realized why my contact suggested I visit this sacred place before the leaves turned green. Briars covered many of the graves and would make finding the one grave I sought a little more of a challenge. I stepped through the gate and paused at the first grave I came to. I was filled with a sadness as I discovered the words on the old, fragile stone could no longer be read.

Carefully stepping around the old stones, I read the ones that I could, searching for one famous grave among the many veterans resting here. At the rear of the cemetery, almost hidden by browned leaves, amid a small patch of brambles, I found the grave I sought. The flat stone was very simple and gives no hint of the interesting life the lady buried here lived. The stone merely states: “Amanda S. Snyder, June 2, 1875, Oct 29, 1972.”

Amanda was born in the Fishing Creek Valley, north of Harrisburg. When she was eighteen years old she moved in with a relative in Philadelphia to attend the Pierce Business College. She began performing in vaudeville where she was discovered by George Gibbs, an artist, to be his model. She was noted for her small stature, brown hair, and hourglass figure which was popular at the time.

At the start of her modeling career, she adopted the professional name of Madeline Stokes. As a part of her modeling, she would pose nude. Knowing her family would not have approved of her career choice, she changed her name so her family back home would not know what she was doing.

By her mid thirties, Amanda was in high demand and often sought after. She was known to have an unmoving pose. Once she struck a pose, she could go nearly twenty-five minutes without moving. After the taking a short break, she was able to return to the exact position without correction. Amanda’s ability set a record while she was modeling for a statue. She remained in a plaster cast that covered her entire body for nine hours.

Amanda posed for some famous artists of the time including John Sloan, Robert Henri, and N.C. Wyeth. When not modeling for famous artists, she had a tour schedule visiting art schools In Pennsylvania, New York, Ohio and Illinois. She graced many magazine covers of the times including The Delineator, The Metropolitan Magazine, The Ladies’ Home Journal, and The Saturday Evening Post.

Amanda retired from modeling in 1914 (at the age of thirty-eight) after marrying artist Albert Snyder. They moved to a farm near Utica, New York, and she remained there until his death in the 1930s. After his death, she returned to the Fishing Creek Valley. In 1952 she moved into the Homeland Center in Harrisburg were she remained until her death in 1972.

My interest in Amanda and her life began after I stumbled upon an article about Italian Lake in Harrisburg. Located in the middle of Italian Lake is the sculpture known as The Dance of Eternal Spring and the three dancing nymphs are modeled after Amanda.

The dancing myphs
Top of The Dance of Eternal Spring
The story of the statue begins in 1909. That year Milton S. Hershey commissioned Giuseppe Donato, an Italian sculptor who was living in Philadelphia, to create a fountain for the grounds of Hershey’s estate. A verbal commitment was struck and Hershey gave Donato two thousand dollars as a down payment on the fountain.

Donato settled on Amanda as one of his models and set to work creating his masterpiece.

When finished, Donato presented the fountain to Hershey who refused to pay for it or even have anything to do with the fountain. Stokes in her later years claimed that she was extremely pleased with the fountain and Donato’s work.

The exact reason why Hershey refused the fountain is not clear. A popular thought at the time was Hershey was shocked at the dancing nudes and was afraid of what his Dutch neighbors would think. While this is a possibility the subject of the nudes was never brought up during the trial.

Another reason, and possibly the true reason, was the price tag of $30,000. Hershey refused to pay for the work and it sat for two years in a crate at the Hershey Railroad station.

In 1909, Donato sued Hershey in the Dauphin County Court. Donato claimed when he was commissioned to create the fountain despite the cost. Hershey claimed he wouldn’t pay ten dollars for anything from Donato’s studio and Donato responded by claiming the fountain that Hershey eventually purchased wasn’t worth the cost of demolishing and tossing into the Susquehanna River.

The end result was the jury awarded Donato a verdict of a little more than $23,000.

Even after paying for the fountain, Hershey refused to accept it and eventually gave it to Harrisburg officials who promptly placed it in storage while trying to figure out what to do with it. At one point it was going to be placed in Riverfront Park, but that never happened.

While the debate was going on, the fountain sat unassembled in its original packaging. A frustrated Donato was so upset that his fountain had yet to be displayed that he supposedly claimed that the The Dance of Eternal Spring could be melted down for bullets, so at least it was being used for something, but hoped that the city could find a place for it so its beauty could be seen by all.

In 1920 the statue was placed in Reservoir Park at a location that was hidden behind shrubbery. The fountain was moved to the Municipal Rose Garden that was located along Third Street in 1938. On September 15, 1938, the fountain was dedicated as a part of the Municipal Rose Gardens. It sat there until February of 1971. The hospital was planning on expanding and asked the city officials to remove the statue.

Donato’s fountain was going to be returned to storage. Rose bushes from the Memorial Gardens were salvaged by Reverend Doctor Bell and planted behind the Grace United Methodist Church. Bell argued before the council that the fountain should not remain in storage but as a part of the city’s heritage it should be displayed. He suggested Riverfront Park, but settled on Italian Lake. Amanda also addressed the council on the future of The Dance of Eternal Spring. At the age of ninety-eight she was described by reporters and still being very sharp and charming.

In July 1971, spectators watched as a crane lowered the fountain onto a small island in the midst of Italian Lake. Amanda was among those watching the fountain being lowered to the place that would become its home.

A story goes that after The Dance of Eternal Spring was first erected that Amanda and a friend from Fishing Creek Valley visited the fountain to view it. Her friend, not knowing Amanda’s lifestyle when away from Fishing Creek Valley, asked her if she could ever image posing as a nude model. Amanda, keeping her modeling career a secret, replied she could never image posing nude.

Amanda’s likeness can be seen in other places across the state. Her likeness can be spotted in the murals done by Violet Oakley that adorn the state capitol building. These murals are located in the Governor’s Reception Room, the Senate Chamber, and the Supreme Court Room. Amanda was also the model for Alexander Stirling Calder’s Sun Dial which stands in Fairmount Park, Philadelphia.

Grave of Amanda Straw Snyder
Fishing Creek Valley
A note about the name Straw: Amanda’s last name was Straw, from the German name Stroh. Interesting while her parents use Straw and most of her siblings used Straw, many of the family descendants have returned to using Stroh rather than Straw.

An interesting note about the 1938 moving of the statue: The moving of the fountain created a lot of interest at the time. How would the nudes be transported from place to place? Would citizens be offended by the nude figures being transported through the city? One group said they would cover it with a sheet. Another suggested they would move it at night. Another suggested they would cover it up and move it at night. Another suggested the use of a large covered truck. The debate seemed to come to an end when a city official stated he did not think it would necessary to cover the fountain during transport. When it was moved it was placed on the back of a truck bed and moved without incident.

A note about Italian Lake: How did Italian Lake get its name? The origin of the name is not clear. A popular version of the origins of the name is this place was once very popular place for the local Italian community. Another version of the park name came from the Italian Hotel that once stood on the spot where the park now exists.

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