Renowned artist Van Howd working on a statue to honor Nevada City’s heritage

Editor’s note: I was excited to see this post on Facebook. We are longtime friends and fans of Doug, have visited his studio and featured his bronze artwork in our magazine. One example is here.

“Since 2010 The Famous Marching Presidents of Nevada City, CA, have worked to honor Nevada City’s connection to that great human rights issue … The 19th Amendment … the right for Women to vote in America,” Dave Parker wrote on his Facebook page.

“Today was a huge step towards fulfilling our goal of a statue unveiled in Nevada City August 2020 which is the 100th birthday of the 19th. Our team ( seen here L to R Sparky, Pearce Boyer, John Boyer, Beth Ann Wilson and Artist Doug Van Howd) met at internationally known artist Doug Van Howd Studio/Foundry and saw the clay model of what will be a life size bronze.

“A very exciting step for sure but many more steps to go. Hopefully in April 2018 we will unveil the bronze of this model. Stay tuned, get on board with this salute and of course Viva Art !”

Author: jeffpelline

Jeff Pelline is a veteran editor and award-winning journalist - in print and online. He is publisher of Sierra FoodWineArt magazine and its website Jeff covered business and technology for The San Francisco Chronicle for 12 years, and he was a founding editor and Editor of CNET News for eight years, among other positions. Jeff has a bachelor's degree from UC Berkeley and a master's from Northwestern University. His hobbies include sailing, swimming, and trout fishing in the Sierra.

32 thoughts on “Renowned artist Van Howd working on a statue to honor Nevada City’s heritage”

  1. Douglas Van Howd is a fine sculptor. He really did his homework when he created Auburn’s statue of a young Nisenan male dancer in full regalia, nicely detailed, right down to the tremblers.
    It would be beautiful if Nevada City could acquire a traditional woman dancer by Van Howd to match it here in Nevada City, but I thought NC had ordinances against statuary and murals. Have things changed?
    I hope so, statues are a historical feature in almost every cultured city in the world.
    At what location is this new pioneer statue slated to be installed?

    1. Judith,
      Yes, we have published a wonderful photo of that statue a few times in our magazine. It is in the town square in downtown Auburn. I’ll let you know more details about this statue when I hear more. Cheers,

  2. Local artist and Nevada Union and School of the Art Institute of Chicago graduate Graham Keeble is the foundry master for Van Howd’s Sierra Sculpture. He is the one who pours, assembles and finishes Van Howd’s designs.

    1. Thanks for the insight Joe! We’ve been over to the studio in Auburn a few times and met with Doug. I will make it a point of asking about Graham and will add this point to a future article in our magazine, describing this project.

  3. As usual, there’s a little dustup on Facebook about this. I hope it does not undermine the spirit of the project.

    Beth Ann Wilson — We poured over historical information and photographs for months and what is depicted in this model of “Ellen Sargent” is taken directly from those sources. Again, we are not skewing the history to appease what we wish to see today.

    Judith Lowry — Howd is a fine sculptor but as Lee noted, the female figure seems especially wrong. The Loretta Lynn hair and dress don’t really reflect the iconic image of a courageous suffragette. It would be helpful to see more proposal maquettes before it goes to the planning commission.

  4. Not a “dust up” Jeff, such hyperbole from you.
    It’s called critique, and all artists, including me, should read their critics’ reviews and not be babies about it.
    The statue is missing the mark, the female figure looks like she’s ready to hand the guy his slippers.
    Howd is capable of better work than this piece.
    Sorry my opinion shakes you up.
    Have wee dram and chill.

    1. “Dust up” was an understatement, judging from the thread on Facebook. How about “Thank you for thinking of this”! Then the “critique.” BTW, nothing around here “shakes me up.” I’ve survived in this “quaint” hamlet for a decade now! lol.

  5. In public art, the process involves the public.
    It’s about that simple.
    This project is going through its process.
    Let’s let that happen, okay?
    Have some faith.

  6. As someone who has researched, written and lectured on the Sargents for more than 25 years, here’s my unsolicited nickel’s worth.

    In the fight for women’s suffrage, Aaron and Ellen were co-equals –– and Ellen sustained the fight much longer than her husband. During Aaron’s term as a U. S. senator (1873-79), Ellen was treasurer of the National Woman (sic) Suffrage Association. Earlier, in 1869, she founded the Nevada County Women’s Suffrage Organization, and in 1896 was president of the California Women’s Suffrage Association.

    In addition, in 1888 she co-founded (with Julia Ward Howe and Phoebe Hearst) the Century Club. In fact, the Century Club –– the first private club for women –– was organized at the Sargent home on Folsom Street in San Francisco.

    After Aaron died in 1887, just shy of his 60th birthday, Ellen remained at the forefront of the movement until her own death in 1911. And so important was Ellen Sargent to the cause of women’s suffrage that her memorial service was held in Union Square with hundreds in attendance..

    That said, I don’t think the proposed statue represents the magnitude of the role Ellen played in the fight for women’s suffrage. I have hoped for such a statue for years and applaud the Famous Marching Presidents and others associated with the project, but I believe any statue of Ellen and Aaron should depict them standing together as equals.

    As for her hair style, the vast majority of photos of Ellen show a woman with her hair in a bun –– not the long, curly locks shown in the statue model. Beth Ann’s comment that the hair style is taken from historical sources is accurate, but the predominant style –– especially from the early 1870s until her death in 1911 –– was that of a bun.

    To conclude my nickel’s worth of unsolicited input, I am very happy to see that a proposed statue of Ellen and Aaron Sargent has reached the stage it is at today, and I look forward to its completion. But I believe the couple should be depicted standing next to each other –– co-equals in the march toward what became the 19th Amendment (introduced in the senate by Aaron in 1876 and ratified many years later without a word being changed).

    Also, I think Ellen’s hair should be in a bun. There’s at least one photo of a young Ellen with long hair, sure, but that’s not the Ellen Sargent who devoted more than 40 years to the fight for women’s suffrage. And it shouldn’t be the Ellen Sargent depicted next to a mature Aaron Sargent.

    Beth Ann apparently said in a FB comment that the project is not intended to skew history in order to “see what we wish to see today.” I agree with that goal and hope that upon further review the statue committee will seek a design showing the couple as co-equals and Ellen appropriately featured with her hair in a bun.

    Judith offered her input as an artist and I’m offering mine as a historian. I hope I’m speaking for both of us when I say we look forward to the statue committee considering our comments with the same level of objective seriousness in which they have been offered.

    1. Mr. Cottrell,

      Your thoughts are in concurrence with many of my own.
      A few years ago i suggested a statue of Ishi for Ronison’s corner, as he looked in a suit, like the ones he wore during his time with Dr. Kroeber.
      Someone asked me at the time what Ishi had to do with the gold rush.
      I mean, if you even have to ask . . .

      I looked up the timeline of Ellen Sargent’s life and saw a very handsome photograph of her during the time of Theodore Roosevelt’s presidency. Her hair was worn up, as was fitting for a mature matron of that time, just as you observed. It also appears she is wearing a fitted jacket.
      Women’s fashion is what can be illusive for those not familiar with the period, and those periods just before and after the Sargents’ prominence. During their tine Mrs. Sargent would have been in the fullness of her activism and influence, and dressed in the more practical style that began to replace the corset and bustle. Coco Chanel was revolutionizing women’s fashion and freeing their bodies for the movement of an active urban life, for leisure, possibly a career, and let’s not forget to mention a healthier woman and safer pregnancies.
      For a pose I suppose I would look to the seated portraits of couples like the Roosevelts, or perhaps Alfred Stieglitz and Georgia O’Keefe. Power couples.
      In a perfect world, they might be visually linked more intimately, perhaps both holding the document for which they worked so hard.
      Just musing .
      But yes, let’s have some public art!
      And thanks to those who are working toward it.

    2. Please let Ellen Sargent be memorialized looking youthful with her hair down. Imagine if you could go back in time and ask her how she would like to be seen by future generations, I am guessing that she would prefer a more youthful look. Sure she accomplished much in her later years, but wouldn’t anyone wish to be shown in their prime. Think of the image of Susan B. Anthony on the dollar coin, a spinster in old age, does such an image inspire young women to learn more and be all they can be?

  7. Thanks Steve for diving right into the design. I’m sure both of your comments will be considered. And though I didn’t read it here, I assume you’re grateful to this group for stepping forward where others hadn’t. Cheers.

    1. Jeff:

      Guess you didn’t notice these expressions of appreciation:

      “I have hoped for such a statue for years and applaud the Famous Marching Presidents and others associated with the project…”


      “I am very happy to see that a proposed statue of Ellen and Aaron Sargent has reached the stage it is at today, and I look forward to its completion…”

      In addition, through my monthly history column in the Nevada City Advocate, I have previously expressed support and appreciation for the Marching Presidents’ leadership with this project, and have specifically recognized some of the key players. I wished them well then and wish them well now.

      1. I wish you began with that. I’m sure there will be lots of chances for input, but I can see how the “tail” is wagging the “dog” in the sense that the vision and diligence of the Marching Presidents is taking a back seat to the criticism of the design. This happens a lot in our towns and knocks the wind out of peoples’ sails. It’s safer on the sidelines.

  8. I LOVE the idea of the statue, delighted it is underway, however, and I wholeheartedly concur with Judith and Steve. I believe Ellen needs to have a more prominent presence. I too feel she is being presented in a more subservient role in this particular juxtaposition. While I’m delighted this is underway, I believe it is of utmost importance that the public be involved in this entire process — we must, in fact. Everything we do –whether the boardwalk or the ParkEasy plan — we have ALWAYS involved the public throughout the design process and we should expect nothing less of something so symbolic and public as this. As a council member, I will insist upon this.

    1. Reinette:

      Appreciate your support re: Ellen’s current depiction on the proposed statue. With you and David on the council, I’m confident the final version will be both visually and historically accurate. David has been working toward this for years, and we all owe him (and some other Marching Presidents, of course) a debt of gratitude for such persistence.

  9. Thank you, Steve. I, too, am delighted David and the Marching Presidents have been leading this charge. I also believe it is imperative we get the public’s input sooner than later. THIS is critical. EVERYTHING that this city does that involves some kind of public display, event, infrastructure, etc., ALWAYS involves input from the citizens. This one, in particular, should include input from the female citizens.

  10. I was catching up with the thread on Facebook. It’s such a shame how negative the discussion has ended up. Some of the organizers have been put on the defensive. Let’s hope it can be salvaged, because it’s such a great idea. And timely too.

    1. Great idea? Of course. However, this was not an open-handed nor transparent process. The artist, unfortunately, has the correct history wrong. And, in addition…this project was not put-out-to bid. If it is to be funded and placed on private property and paid for by private funds, then they can do what they want.

      But it has come to light that the City will be using City personnel to make way for this sculpture to be installed. If that is the case, this project was supposed to be placed out to bid. This project actually got pushed thru without City Council input.

      1. “Mike,” speaking of transparency, why don’t you sign your name? I’m confident that if taxpayer money is used, then the Council will wind up having input.

  11. Jeff, The development of this statue, like the Boardwalk, like the ParkEasy project, like Sugarloaf, like the NC airport, is a process and should be seen as that. The organizers should be open to public input. This will only ensure its broad acceptance and adoration in the end: Particularly if the public is expected to subsidize it. I look forward to seeing this move forward and look forward to the end-design. This statue and the recognition of the Sargent’s vision is overdue!

    1. I didn’t get the impression that this was the end design. More than others, I have firsthand knowledge of Doug’s work on other public art projects and it gets revised along the way. This was the case with the Nisenan and Col. Bud Anderson statues in Auburn. What is unfortunate is that the criticism was so vociferous that it undermined a great idea and put some of the organizers on the defensive. We are in politically sensitive times, so I suppose it is inevitable. Let’s hope the project can build support and not die.

  12. This endeavor, to ring in an unworthy and pedestrian work of “art”on an unsuspecting, plebeian community with apparently, no artistic taste according to those who wish to satisfy the need of some who seek a legacy for themselves in Nevada City, tempts me to officially rescind my endorsement of this county as worthy of a Cultural District designation. We are now presented with a proposal for a statue which is historically uniformed, culturally tone-deaf, and a pedestrian effort to boot. Van Howd either phoned this one in or he was grievously uninformed.
    Let’s get this right, as it seems this thing is already a done-deal in the minds of its supporters.

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