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Flanking a “super plaster” model of the new Kate Chopin bust are Susie Chopin, great-granddaughter of Kate Chopin (left); and sculptor Jaye Gregory. The plaster bust has been sent to a foundry in Oregon for the final bronze casting. photo by Diana Linsley
(click for larger version)
January 18, 2012Watching over the intersection of Euclid and McPherson avenues in the Central West End are busts of Tennessee Williams and T.S. Eliot, two of the area's most noteworthy writers. Joining that legendary duo in March will be a bronze likeness of literary great Kate Chopin, who once called McPherson Avenue home.
The Chopin bust, by sculptor Jaye Gregory of Webster Groves, will be the third installation in what is known as Writers' Corner, an homage to the icons of American literature with roots in the Central West End (CWE).
Chopin's likeness will grace the northwest corner of the intersection. The Central West End Association, the organization behind the unique Writers' Corner, is planning a public dedication of the bust on Sunday, March 11 at 2 p.m.
For Susie Chopin of University City, great-granddaughter of Kate Chopin, the idea of a bust celebrating her ancestor is humbling.
"It's quite an honor to have this in her old neighborhood," said Chopin.
Susie Chopin's father David died in October 2011 at the age of 92. He was the son of Kate Chopin's son, George, known to the family as "Doc."
"Kate died in 1904, and my father was born in 1918, so he didn't know her," said Susie Chopin. "My dad said Kate's children were very proud of her. I do know that Doc, when he was asked about Kate, said she was a great lady."
St. Louis Roots
Few photographs of Kate Chopin exist. The photo above is the most well-known image of the author. Extensive information about Chopin’s life and work can be found through the Kate Chopin International Society, www.katechopin.org.
photo: Missouri History Museum
(click for larger version)
Kate Chopin (nee O'Flaherty) was born Feb. 8, 1850, in St. Louis. When she was just 19 years of age, she met Oscar Chopin of Natchitoches Parish, La., at a social event at Oakland House. That house is now owned and operated by the Affton Historical Society.
In 1870 Oscar and Kate married and moved to Louisiana, where they raised six children. When Oscar Chopin died in 1882, Kate moved back to St. Louis.
Kathleen Butterly Nigro, president of the Kate Chopin Society of North America and assistant teaching professor, department of English, at University of Missouri-St. Louis, said she is thrilled the CWE Association chose Kate Chopin for its third Writers' Corner honor.
"The reason I'm so pleased they would choose Kate Chopin for this project is because most people associate Kate Chopin with Louisiana, and she lived in St. Louis for all but 10 years of her life," said Nigro.
Chopin began writing for publication when she returned to St. Louis following the death of her husband. One of her early short stories was published in 1889 in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. More short stories would follow, leading up to the most well-known of her works, the novel "The Awakening," published in 1899. "The Awakening" is often cited as one of the first American novels to deal with the complex issues of women's "hidden" lives.
"'The Awakening' was met with critical acclaim but it was reviled in the St. Louis press," said Nigro.
"That she would write about a woman who had all the material things and was still not happy – they couldn't deny it was a wonderfully written book," she said.
In the late 1960s a Harvard scholar working toward his Ph.D. rediscovered "The Awakening," said Nigro.
"That's what brought 'The Awakening' back in 1969, and it became the emblematic feminist writing for a second wave of feminists," she said.
Susie Chopin said she admires her great-grandmother, but the family has never dwelled on her fame.
"The first thing I think of when I think of Kate is as my great-grandmother, the next is as an author," she said. "I just want to love her for who she was."
Sculptor Jaye Gregory researched Edwardian hairstyles through photographs and Impressionist paintings before beginning the Kate Chopin bust. photo by Diana Linsley (click for larger version)
Susie Chopin said there are some strong characteristics of Kate's that run through the Chopin veins, especially in the women.
"She had to make some really tough decisions after her husband Oscar died," she said. "Good for her for getting back up here (to St. Louis) and to have the guts to start writing.
"When people say she was ahead of her time I don't really look at it that way," she added. "Here's Kate. And here's Kate making a decision to take care of her kids. I think it took guts to go to the publisher and set herself up for rejection. I think she wrote about things that affected people of her time, and a 100 years before her time, and today."
Chopin was just 54 years of age when she died in 1904, the same year St. Louis hosted the World's Fair.
"She loved the World's Fair from what I understand," said Susie Chopin.
Aug. 20, 1904, Pennsylvania Day, was one of many days Chopin attended the fair.
"It was a horrible, hot, August day," said Susie Chopin. "She came home and she wasn't feeling well. She went to bed, woke up briefly and said 'my head hurts,' slipped into a coma and died two days later, of a brain hemorrhage."
Chopin is buried in Calvary Cemetery in St. Louis. Extensive information about her life and work can be found online through the Kate Chopin International Society, www.katechopin.org.
The Missouri Historical Society also houses some significant Chopin documents, said Nigro.
Former Central West End Association board member John Loeski was instrumental in the installation of the first Writers' Corner bust, of Tennessee Williams, in 2007. The Williams likeness, by sculptor Harry Weber, stands in the southeast corner of the intersection in front of Rothschild's Antiques.
It was such a big hit, said former board member Tom Brackman, that the idea for Writers' Corner was born.
"After they installed the Williams statue all these people kept coming up and getting their pictures taken there. It was just a real attraction," said Brackman. "I came up with the idea that if we put a bust on all the corners and called it Writers' Corner, it might be more of a draw for the Central West End.
"We were trying to do whatever we could to give people a reason to walk up to McPherson and spend more time in the Central West End," he said. "With all those writers who lived here, and with Left Bank Books on that corner, it seemed like the literary center of St. Louis."
T.S. Eliot's likeness, by sculptor Vlad Zhitomirsky, is located in front of Left Bank Books. It was installed in 2010 in conjunction with a 122nd birthday celebration by the T.S. Eliot Society, which contributed money for the project.
The Regional Arts Commission has also been instrumental in Writers' Corner funding. The Kate Chopin bust is getting an added boost from an anonymous contribution from the estate of a private donor.