The John and Joyce Caddell Sculpture Garden at the Montgomery Museum of Fine Arts gained its first permanent resident this fall when Jessie Duncan Wiggin’s (1872–1954) Untitled (Nymph) took center stage at the top of the new Garden. While many of its current sculptural residents are intended to be temporary visitors, this lovely bronze dancer will be welcoming visitors to the Caddell Sculpture Garden for years to come.
The Nymph’s journey to the Garden began in New York in 1933. The more than six-foot tall figure was cast at the Roman Bronze Works in New York and depicts a mythological spirit of nature, who, as in this case, is generally shown in a celebratory dance. In mythology, nymphs were associated with locations such as woods, rivers, and streams.
Having already been exhibited outdoors for many years in Robert and Virginia Weil’s Montgomery garden, the sculpture’s surface needed to be cleaned and years of accumulated corrosion removed. It is corrosion of the metal that gives bronze exhibited outdoors a characteristic bright green color over the original patina. The Museum consulted with objects conservator, Michelle Savant of Atlanta for the project. A broken finger was repaired, the sculpture was cleaned, and finally, Savant waxed the surface, which will protect it from further deterioration. This process has returned the sculpture’s surface to its original bronze patina.
The Museum has placed Nymph on a limestone plinth at the top of the Garden, in front of a beautiful natural rock wall that defines the northern edge of the Caddell Sculpture Garden itself. As a garden sculpture in the classical tradition of mythological spirits of nature, Nymph represents a convention in Western art that goes back for many centuries: that of showing female figures as celebrations of nature and of the garden’s natural beauty.