With the EPHS marking its 20th anniversary this year, we’re using our blog to celebrate some of our neighborhood’s finest landmarks. One of the most beloved is the Lady of the Lake, the statue produced in the depths of the Great Depression by Los Angeles sculptor Ada May Sharpless.
The Art Deco statue, with its gently curving features and Egyptian styling, stands on one of the choicest spots at Echo Park Lake: surrounded by rose bushes, and with a backdrop of the lake and the downtown skyline. The Lady of the Lake -- originally known as Queen of the Angels -- also stands on a base that pays loving tribute to L.A.'s landmarks and locales.
Take a closer look: One side has a relief of Los Angles City Hall, which would have opened not too many years before the statue was completed. A second side depicts shows the city at work: agriculture, factories, a railroad line, oil derricks and ships in the L.A. harbor. A third depicts natural spaces: the ocean, hills and mountains. The fourth shows off the Hollywood Bowl, the San Gabriel Mission, the Central Library and glorious sunshine.
The Lady of the Lake has traveled a bit over the years. When the EPHS was formed in 1995, the statue was sitting in a city storage yard, damaged and hidden from public view. Four years later, then-City Councilwoman Jackie Goldberg, some persistent neighborhood activists and the EPHS successfully pushed for the statue to be restored and relocated to a spot near the boathouse.
When the lake’s $45 million renovation was completed in 2013, the Lady of the Lake moved again, to a peninsula not far from the lotus bed. That's where she first appeared in 1935, the year the Municipal Arts Commission agreed to place the Art Deco statue at Echo Park.
Sharpless, born in Hawaii and raised in Orange County, created the Queen of the Angels at a studio at 2970 London Street * in Silver Lake, according to a report in the June 1,1934 issue of the Los Angeles Times. The work was one of many commissioned as part of the federal Public Works of Art Project, part of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s New Deal, which put people back to work during the Depression.
The statue was completed in May 1934 and displayed months later along with the works of nine other artists by the Ebell Art Club. Although it was the centerpiece of the show, it failed to win over one prominent critic: Times art writer Arthur Millier.
Five years earlier, Millier had lavished praise on Sharpless, saying she had submitted the “star piece” of California Art Club’s annual exhibition. But after visiting the Ebell Club's art salon, he informed readers that Sharpless’ piece lacked much needed subtlety. “It is not her happiest work,” he sniffed. . Perhaps he didn't like the statue's deferential posture?
Sharpless, a USC graduate who studied in Paris during the 1920s, soon defended her work in a letter to Millier, who agreed only to publish tiny excerpts in the Jan. 27, 1935 edition of his “Brush Strokes” column. In one passage, she accused Millier of engaging in “superficial and destructive criticism." She also declared that the Queen of the Angels was "one of the best pieces of work I have done so far.”
Despite those rough early days, the Lady of the Lake went on to captivate visitors to Echo Park lake for decades. On her perch, she is an attraction for park goers looking to rest, relax and maybe capture a few photographs. Although the neighborhood has gone through many changes over the past 80 years, the Queen of the Angels stands tall, surveying the park and its many visitors.
To learn more about the Lady of the Lake:
* An LA Times story from 1933 said Sharpless lived at 1142 1/2 Seward St.