Pictured at left is the statue of Po’pay, one of two statues of heroes from the history of New Mexico featured in the National Statuary Hall, a collection in the U.S. Capitol. Po’pay’s statue was added to the collection in 2005, one of the two latest additions.
Po’pay was a leader of the revolt against oppressive Spanish rule over New Mexico’s native inhabitants between 1675 and 1681, a century before the American Revolution.
In 1997, the New Mexico Legislature selected Po’pay as the subject of the state’s second statue for the National Statuary Hall Collection and created the New Mexico Statuary Hall Commission, whose members were appointed by Governor Gary Johnson. Four sculptors were selected to create maquettes, and Cliff Fragua was awarded the commission in December 1999. It will be the seventh statue of a Native American in the collection; the others are King Kamehameha I, Will Rogers (who had Cherokee ancestors), Sakakawea, Sequoyah, Washakie, and Sarah Winnemucca.
The seven-foot-high statue was carved from pink Tennessee marble (making it the only colored marble statue in the collection) and stands on a three-foot-high pedestal comprised of a steel frame clad in black granite. It is the first marble statue contributed to the collection since that of South Dakota’s Joseph Ward, which was given in 1963; the other statues given since that time have been bronze. Its acceptance marked the first time at which every state in the Union has been represented by two statues in the collection. In addition, Po’pay is historically the first person represented in the collection to be born on what would become American soil.
No image or written description of Po’pay is known to exist. Sculptor Cliff Fragua describes the statue thus:
In my rendition, he holds in his hands items that will determine the future existence of the Pueblo people. The knotted cord in his left hand was used to determine when the Revolt would begin. As to how many knots were used is debatable, but I feel that it must have taken many days to plan and notify most of the Pueblos. The bear fetish in his right hand symbolizes the center of the Pueblo world, the Pueblo religion. The pot behind him symbolizes the Pueblo culture, and the deerskin he wears is a humble symbol of his status as a provider. The necklace that he wears is a constant reminder of where life began, and his clothing consists of a loin cloth and moccasins in Pueblo fashion. His hair is cut in Pueblo tradition and bound in a chongo. On his back are the scars that remain from the whipping he received for his participation and faith in the Pueblo ceremonies and religion.
Fragua, an Indian from Jemez Pueblo, studied sculpture in Italy, California, and New Mexico; he created his first stone sculpture in 1974.
The other 2005 addition to the collection was Sarah Winnemucca, heroine from Nevada (pictured below, right).
[facsimile of her signature, “Sarah Winnemucca Hopkins”]
Defender of Human rights
Author of first book by a Native woman
Each state may have two statues in the collection.
My work on the Senate staff often required that I walk the Capitol, especially between the Senate and House Press Galleries. I often lamented that it was not available or accessible to students. This collection of statues is one of the better unsung galleries of history in Washington, D.C. It is heavily influenced by politics and current fashion. Selections illustrate how state legislatures try to make their state’s reputation, and can be very quirky. For example, Pennsylvania’s statues include Robert Fulton, an inventor of the steamboat, and John Peter Gabriel Muhlenberg — but not Ben Franklin or William Penn. Why? There could be a paper done on the politics of the choices of each of the 50 states.
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