The Nike of Samothrace

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My highlight purchase of our recent trip to Southern California was a small Nike of Samothrace statue – fifteen inches high and exquisite in detail and form. We found her in the gift shop of the Hearst Castle.

I’ll let Izzy and Lisa-Marie describe the statue for you. (a brief snippet from my first novel, Disappearing in Plain Sight, which will be available in March – shameless plug – hehehe)

With the two glasses of water in hand, Izzy led Lisa-Marie to a shaded bench across from the garden house. Lisa-Marie studied the headless, winged statue standing to the side of the small building’s French doors. “Once you look at her you can’t seem to stop,” she said and her hands itched again for a camera.

The Winged Nike of Samothrace. She is beautiful,” Izzy paused to take in the beauty of the white statue, which was five feet tall on its concrete base. “The original is in the Louvre in Paris. I saw it there when I travelled to Europe in my early twenties and I never got the image out of my head.”

Izzy glanced over to see Lisa-Marie studying the statue carefully. She tried not to sound like a tour guide as she continued, “The original was discovered on the Greek Island of Samothrace in the mid-eighteen hundreds, but she was sculpted long before that, around two-hundred years before Christ. They think she might have sat in a corner of an open-air theatre on a marble pedestal that was shaped like the front of a ship. Apparently she was meant to look like she had just come down from the sky, like she was leading a triumphant fleet of ships.”

“Did she have a head or her arms when they found her?” Lisa-Marie’s head was tilted to one side, her long brown hair sweeping down to the bench she and Izzy shared.

“Good question,” Izzy said as she sat back on the bench stretching out her legs. She sipped slowly from the plastic glass of cool water and focused her attention on the statue, only stopping briefly to pluck a leaf of lemon balm from the outcropping by her end of the bench and crush it lightly between her fingers. The fragrant leaf released its pungent, lemon smell. “They found her just the way you see her. It seems to me like she is more fascinating because of what is missing. I’m not sure, but there is something about the way she is straining forward and how her dress has been sculpted to look as if it is blowing back in the wind. You can almost imagine how the wind would shake the feathers on her wings. I find her totally compelling.”

Lisa-Marie nodded silently, she could see exactly what Izzy meant.

“I had a poster of the Nike for years and then when we finished the garden house I wanted to find it again and have it framed for that wall,” Izzy gestured to the wall behind the statue. “Caleb said it would fade and moisture would get behind the glass and stuff like that.” She shrugged at Lisa-Marie as if to say, men know that kind of thing, but it sure is irritating.

“Anyway, Caleb said why not get a statue; and who knew it was so easy to order a statue online?” Izzy laughed and then continued in a quiet tone, “When we had her here, I felt like the garden was complete somehow, maybe a bit like my victory.”

Lisa-Marie pondered the statue’s fluid sense of movement and considered an angle shot from the bottom of the stairs looking up. “You know what? I don’t even care what her face was like. She’s perfect just the way she is.”

Izzy nodded her agreement. “There are lots of good replicas in museums and galleries but you know what is really odd?” Izzy paused, “The best replica is supposedly outside of Caesars Palace in Las Vegas,” she laughed and added, “Celebrating another type of victory, I guess.”

 

Anyone who has followed my blog for a while, may remember the post where I described our little side trip on the Las Vegas strip to see this statue.

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Why does this statue fascinate me to the degree to which it does – so much so that I had to include it in Izzy’s fictional garden?

I first discovered her when Bruce and I crossed the Canadian border to Buffalo in 2008 for a tour of the Darwin D. Martin Complex – a Frank Lloyd Wright designed home, in the historic Parkside neighbourhood. The Martin home is considered to be one of the finest examples of FLW’s Prairie style homes.

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Bruce has always been a FLW fan (see his blog post on another great FLW house – ORGANIC ARCHITECTURE – KENTUCK KNOB ) and we have been fortunate enough, on our travels, to tour several buildings Wright designed. The Martin Complex was in the process of being restored by the Martin House Restoration Corporation.

When we visited in 2008, the main house was still very much a work in progress, but one feature that Wright had created was stunningly restored. When you entered the front door of the house you could see right through the entire bottom floor, down a long outdoor pergola to the conservatory. There, prominently located and clearly visible from the front door was the Nike. She was stunning – overwhelmingly beautiful down that long passageway standing amid vines and greenery.

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Here is what Martin House curator Jack Quinan had to say about the significance of the Nike’s placement, “The Nike vista also carried a powerful personal message for Darwin Martin, one that is key to the experience of the Martin House. Upon passing through the principal entrance to the house, one’s vision was immediately drawn to the distant Nike, the ancient Greek personification of Victory, brilliantly realized by its anonymous sculptor as a synthesis of human and animal forms caught at the moment of alighting on the prow of a ship at sea. By placing Nike at the vanishing point of the long pergola, Wright transformed into architectural and sculptural terms a narrative of Darwin Martin’s life – the long and difficult journey fraught with loneliness and adversity that culminated in wealth, prestige, a splendid home, a stable family.”

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As I wandered over the complex after the tour, I found a plaque that summarized the significance of Wright’s use of the Nike for this particular building.

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At the time of seeing this quote, I was immersed in my own connection with the idea of story – narrative as a research methodology. Part of the trip was a stopover in Toronto to give a presentation at a Narrative Conference based on a storied DVD production of my Master’s thesis. Seeing the word narrative connected with the Nike just wormed its way into my subconscious thoughts and I couldn’t let go of it.

I bought a poster of the statue and when I got home I took it to an expensive little shop and had it framed. It now hangs in the entrance to the cabin – the first thing you see when you walk through the door. As close as I can get to that unbelievable feeling of seeing the Nike down that pergola at the Martin Complex.

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This statue has become an icon for us on our various trips. We ran into a wonderful replica in the State Capitol Building in Boise, Idaho.

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Of course she showed up on the strip in Las Vegas and again in the gift shop at the Hearst Castle. She follows me around and I look for her everywhere.

Early on in my blog writings a commenter asked how a writer could find such inspiration in the Winged Nike – after all, she is headless and armless – no head to think with and no hands to write with. I still don’t have an answer to that question. I just know I can’t write without her. Maybe it’s like what Izzy says about falling in love with Caleb – Sometimes the complicated twists and turns of life, the endless questions of why this choice and not that one, can be understood and answered that easily – we’re just looking in the wrong spot.

10 comments on “The Nike of Samothrace

  1. My father had a small copy of Nike on his desk in DC for years. I think my brother might have gotten it after Dad died, not sure. I don’t have it. But I like very much reading your stories here, and remembering his statue. For him, I think it was a symbol of the eventual triumph of we, the people…..

  2. Gwen says:

    I loved reading the excerpt of your novel! Beautiful photos, too.

  3. […] – and not many people followed – except for my wonderful and talented wife Francis, ( disappearing in plain sight ) along with a few other notable folk, here and roundabout. We’re not movin […]

  4. rickman says:

    I think I like this

  5. She was my favorite sight at the Louvre — something so compelling about that majestic sculpture, as you climb the stairs to take a closer look.

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