UPPER WEST SIDE — A ceremony held Thursday marking the centennial of the Joan of Arc statue along Riverside Drive — the first monument to a woman in the city — served as a tribute to the friendship between France and the U.S.
The bright, blustery weather brought out dozens of locals, students from the French dual-language program at M.S. 256, Francophiles, French dignitaries and scholars — as well as an increased police presence that included counter-terrorism officers.
The 100-year anniversary of the monument, which stands inside Riverside Park at West 93rd Street and Riverside Drive, comes at a time when "we feel a special bond with France," explained John Herrold, president of the Riverside Park Conservancy and the park's chief administrator, referencing the recent terror attacks in Paris.
Honoring the 15th-century heroine, who helped liberate France from England's rule, was "especially meaningful" at the current time, as "we need more than ever to stick to our values and our history," said Consul General Bertrand Lortholary, of the Consulate General of France in New York.
"[Joan of Arc] stood strong against France's enemies just as France stands strong today," he added.
The 20-foot tall bronze statue — which depicts Joan in her armor, riding a charging horse and holding a sword aloft with her head tilted upwards — was the first monument to a woman built in a city park, Parks Department officials said.
The monument was funded privately by a group of community members, Herrold noted, and on Thursday locals announced the formation of an endowment for its upkeep, with an inaugural gift from neighbors of $5,000.
Until now, no endowment has existed to care for it, said Lisa Linden, a member of the recently formed committee tasked with caring for the statue.
"Women sometimes get left behind," she said.
Despite the lapse in organized caretaking, "we will do a better job," said Aaron Biller, president of Neighborhood in the Nineties, the group that spearheaded the centennial event.
The American sculptor behind the piece, Anna Vaughn Hyatt Huntington, was "almost completely unknown" at a time when it "was pretty much inconceivable that a woman would make any kind of art...let alone a statue of this size," explained Anne Higonnet, an art professor at Barnard College.
Choosing Huntington was "as radical as Joan of Arc," she added.
When the statue arrived in New York City, "everyone was stunned by its size, its ambition and the detail in the armor," Higonnet continued.
In essence, the sculpture is one "that happened against all odds," she said.
Also joining the crowd was a super fan dressed in a Joan of Arc costume, whose goal is to spread the word about female-focused monuments in the city.
"This is really a celebration of Joan of Arc," said Lulu Lolo of East Harlem, donning a sparkly gray dress with medieval accents, including a battle helmet. "My project is highlighting the lack of monuments to women."