With his wide-ranging background in art and industrial design, TFAA artist Chris Erney has left his mark on our region. You’ve seen his work on building facades around Washington, and in 2009 he spruced up a dingy section of the Mount Vernon Trail in Alexandria with a remarkable 1,200-foot-long mural celebrating the life of George Washington.
These days, Erney’s historical interests have led him to Richmond. He’s one of 42 artists who’ve submitted design proposals for the Virginia Women’s History Memorial, to be located in the city’s Capitol Square. Because so many statues and monuments already pack the square, Erney and his competitors face an interesting challenge: finding visual or symbolic connections to a nearby equestrian statue of George Washington that serves as a memorial to Virginia’s patriot sons.
“Although there are many wonderful things about the existing memorial, from our present-day perspective, it has a few flaws,” Erney says. “It’s unapproachable—literally. Though its design features a staircase on each side, the entire memorial is closed off with an iron fence. The female figures in the current memorial are used only as adornments that explain the accomplishments of the male figure above them.”
By contrast, Erney’s design focuses entirely on women. “Women of various ages and races would be represented and showcased throughout the entire site,” he says. “Bronze figures at human scale are easily approached from the walkways nearby. My proposed memorial has no barriers and is meant to be explored, with a seating area for those who wish to reflect.”
In his proposed design, Erney represents history as a female figure recording the untold accomplishments of Virginia’s women in a large book. (In a particularly thoughtful touch, the statue is positioned in such a way that on the first morning of Women’s History Month, the rising sun illuminates her gaze.) Around her, pages that represent stories and lost details of women’s lives wait to be discovered by visitors who symbolically walk through time. Nearby, an old woman who represents the past offers a story to a young girl representing the future—who has already begun to gather the scattered pages of history in her arms.
To Erney, a memorial that looks to the future is crucial. “Anything we do has to be meaningful to the youngest among us,” he explains. “In later decades, they’ll be the ones walking by, explaining it to their children and grandchildren. They’ll be charged with maintaining it, and hopefully even adding to it. History doesn’t stop; today’s events are tomorrow’s history.”