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Noah Webster Gets Put on a Pedestal

A serialized memoir of life in West Hartford. Print copies are available at http://www.lulu.com/shop/david-white/it-was-a-typical-day-in-west-hartford/paperback/product-2811882.html

On South Main Street, just a few feet down from the typical New England public library (itself next to the typical New England white-steepled Congregational Church, both adjacent to the typical New England town green) stood a statue of West Hartford’s Favorite Son, Noah Webster (the statue was recently moved temporarily* on account of the Blue Back Square construction). Although Webster’s contributions are largely unrecognized by the general public today, his impact on American life and education in the 19th century was awesome, almost Franklinesque. Make it a point to visit his birthplace and museum on South Main Street.


Noah’s statue was sculpted during 1941 by Korczak Ziolkowski (Ziolkowski later went on to fame with his gargantuan statue of Crazy Horse carved out of a mountain in the Black Hills of South Dakota. Remember, this was the era of Mount Rushmore). He was considered a little eccentric by some townspeople, but xenophobic disregard directed at people who don’t speak or dress like us, have beards, perform manual labor out of doors shirtless and sweaty while making a lot of racket, or fuss over details while suffering no fools gladly is a common story, not worthy of a mention. But I did.


The big story here, though, is the index finger on Noah’s left hand. Rumor has it that originally the finger was pointing outward (as a teacher might pose in a pedagogical gesture) but that unnamed “society ladies” took offense at its alleged phallic similarities, and used their influence to have the finger ground down to an inoffensive nub. True? Or West Hartford’s very own urban legend? Who knows? I can’t decide. If the finger was ground off, it was a superb job.

It DOES look nubby, though.


Back in the spring of 1989, the Town of West Hartford sponsored a contest for a new Town logo. The winning design would appear on All Things West Hartford, everything from Town business cards, envelopes, letterhead, to public works vehicles and trash cans. Today it would be on the Town Web site too. I had begun studying graphic design 5 years earlier and I felt I had the perfect concept: Noah Webster! Of course! I couldn’t lose, it was so brilliant. Why didn’t anyone else think of this? A plausible symbol of West Hartford mythology.


I had observed the statue many times, and because of the light color of the stone I decided to do a black and white design to take advantage of the contrast between the highlights and shadows. I stopped in West Hartford Center on my way home from work (about 4:00 am) when there would be no one to interfere, and I could get a good silhouette of the statue against the darkness with minimal digital manipulation of the image. I took several pictures from different angles, and chose the one from the figure’s left side. This view gave a strong profile of the head while minimizing its disproportionately large size (an unfortunate shortcoming) capturing both hands posing rhetorically, and the professor’s dramatic flowing robe.


I developed my picture (this was before digital photography), scanned it on a flatbed, saved it as a bitmap, then created the figure with Adobe Illustrator’s autotrace feature. I felt the result came out very well and exceeded my expectations. I proudly submitted what I truly believed would be the winning logo design to the Town logo search committee.


Pride Goeth Before a Committee


Office of the Mayor
April 21, 1989


Dear Mr. White:


Thank you for your participation in the recent “Logo” contest sponsored by the West Hartford Commission on the Arts. There were 57 submissions considered by the judges appointed by the Commission, and every one of those entries reflected the pride we all feel as residents of West Hartford.


Although each participant was a “winner” in the sense of taking the time and thought necessary to create a logo for the Town, there can be only one award presented to the entry which, in the opinion of the judges, best represents the community.


The award will be presented to ______________ when her entry is submitted to the Town Council for its consideration…


Again, our deep appreciation for your entry and your interest…
Sincerely, …

 

*During the spring of 2007, while this book was being written, the statue of another famous Connecticut son — Nathan Hale — was stolen, literally cut off at the ankles, from in front of the Nathan Hale Homestead in Putnam. Carol (from the Bookworm) and I surmise Noah and Nathan had been placed into some kind of witness protection program.

 

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