Rise And Fall
Of A Bronzed Beauty Queen
By NICK ABADJIAN
Once upon a time there was a statue of a Queen that was supposed to be
the tallest in all of Queens.
But the story of how this fairy tale ends remains to be seen as the
future of an incomplete statue, created to be a tribute to the namesake of the Borough of
Queens, currently rests in exile in an upstate foundry.
The tale was not always so sad for this Queen.
In 1988, plans were set in motion to erect a 35-foot statue of Queen
Catherine of the Braganza in Hunters Point the Queen for which some believe the
borough is to have been named after in 1683.
The monument would have been the second largest to the Statue of
Liberty, yet this lady did not receive the same welcoming from the diverse residents of
Queens, when it was revealed that her family was involved in the slave trade.
Queen Catherine was important in the diplomatic dealings
between England and Portugal. As the daughter of the King of Portugal, Catherine of
Braganza was handed over in marriage in 1660 to King Charles II of England, with a dowry
that included Bombay. The marriage allowed England important trading privileges while
Portugal retained its independence from Spain. Catherine is credited with familiarizing
England with port wine, opera and tea.
Queens was supposedly named after Queen Catherine in 1683 when the
counties were under the rule of Charles the II, but some historians disagree.
In the naming of Queens in the Charter of Liberties in 1683, the
assembly had made no mention of Queen Catherine of Braganza.
"Its logical to assume that they [the boroughs] were named
after King Charles and Queens Catherine, but it was never proven," said James
Driscoll, researcher for the Queens Historical Society.
Manual e Sousa, a manager for the citys Portuguese
Trade Commission wrote a fully illustrated biography on the Queen and assisted in a Queens
Museum of Art exhibition for the 300th anniversary of Queen Catherine.
Artist Audrey Flack with her creation.
It was over dinner in Flushing
restaurant that Sousa and then-Queens Museum director, Janet Schneider jumped at the idea
of producing a monument of the Queen in a prime Queens location.
Sousa founded the Friends of Queen
Catherine, an organization to promote her identity.
They organized an artistic competition for
the design of the statue, and chose internationally acclaimed sculptor Audrey Flack who
started work on the statue in a foundry upstate in Beacon, New York. Friends of Queen
Catherine raised funds for the statue by holding benefit concerts, dinners at the Plaza
Hotel and other events, which raked in more than $2.5 million.
Supporters of the Queen Catherine statue
grew to an impressive list of international government figures, European royalty and
officials, and business leaders.
The list also included Borough President
Claire Shulman, Donald Trump, and a committee that included former President Jimmy Carter.
The statue was supposed to bring pride to the borough, call attention to its history and
represent the most ethnically diverse group of neighborhoods in the world.
Flacks design of the statue would show the Queen
with an orb in her hand, symbolizing the Queens role in bridging the new and old
world. The statue is to be 35 feet high and built in four phases. The first model was 22
inches, enlarging to 44 inches, 10 feet, and then to its full size, to be cast in bronze.
It was to be completed in time for the 100th anniversary of the consolidation of the five
A 10-year land use permit called for the statue to be
erected along at Hunters Point on a land project by the Port Authority as part of
the Queens West development. The statue of Queen Catherine was to stand on a 15-foot
bronze clad dome platform with a four-sided, five-foot high staircase. The statue would
have faced the UN. This act already caused a little stir.
The statue of Queen Catherine currently rests in a foundry in
"I always felt that the location was bad," said Stanley
Cogan, the boroughs official Historian and chair of the Queens Historical Society.
Cogan didnt think it was fair that the statue would gaze upon the UN "and all
Hunters Point and Queens would get was her backside."
As the project progressed and more people
became aware of the Queen, some questioned the legitimacy of a British monarch that would
Jeffrey Kroessler, a history teacher at
Long Island University and the head of the Queens Preservation League, had asked the
Tribune in 1995, "Why is this Portuguese Princess worthy of this honor? Because
by accident she was married to the English monarch at the moment when the royal province
of New York was divided into administrative units called counties? Because she is a
A revisited history on the Queen spurred
groups to rise up against the monarch. It is alleged that the Queen and her family had
profited off the slave trade.
In 1997, Rev. Charles Norris of the
Jamaica-based Bethesda Missionary Baptist Church told the Tribune, "Were
not going to sit idly by and let them erect a statue to honor a person who benefited from
the slave trade."
Whether or not the borough was named for Queen Catherine of
Braganza has been the subject of debate among Queens historians.
Norris joined forces with activist Betty Dopson, who organized
the ad hoc Friends Against Queen Catherine.
Irish American Queensites were also upset
with notion that a British monarch that would soon eclipse the Calvary Cemetery. The
cemetery was established for the Irish immigrant population, which never fancied the
On top of that, the Revolutionary
Wars Battle of Kips Bay took place near the statues ill-fated location. The patriots
fled to Manhattan and headed north.
David Gold of Oakland Gardens, an amateur
historian on Queens, wrote an op-ed piece questioning why the Queen should be honored.
After studying the history of Queen Catherine he found that when she was regent of Spain,
"the Portuguese government had burned sixty people to death in Lisbon because the
Inquisition had found them guilty of the crime of being
The issue culminated to a public hearing
held at the Borough Hall in December of 1997. By January 1998, Shulman decided that the
statue be placed on private land, instead of quasi-public land.
Today, the fate of the Queen
rests in the hand of her creators. Infighting between the artists and the benefactor
dragged the fight over the statue to court. Despite strong opposition and Borough
President Claire Shulmans withdrawal of support, Sousa moved to continue building
the statue, with or without the original artist.
The statue currently rests is in a foundry
upstate in Beacon on the grounds of Tallix, Inc, where she is waiting to be cast in
By March 1998, Tallix, stopped working on
the statue, which was in its final stages. The Friends of Queen Catherine and Tallix
resolved their differences in January 1999 and Tallix agreed to assemble and finish the
statue for it to be shipped. This new agreement had Sousa supervising the project, without
Flacks final say on the 35 bronze statue.
But Flack found out that the face of the
statue was damaged. The sculpture of the head was placed outdoors, where Mother Nature
took its toll on Catherines face. Her face had to be reconstructed for the clay
molds. Although Flack offered to re-sculpt the face for an additional fee, her assistant
David Simon was hired instead.
In the court case it was alleged that an
inexperienced Simon created a "distorted, mutilated model," warping the nose,
nostrils, eyes and lips. And in Sept. 1999, Flack dragged the issue to court again,
getting a temporary restraining order on the construction. This prevented Tallix from
casting the head in bronze.
Some of Flacks arguments were that
her rights as an artist were violated under the Copyright acts and the Visual Artist Act
of 1990 and there was a breach of contract. The defendants, Friends of Queen and Tallix
moved top dismiss her claims.
After a year in courts a decision was
rendered in April, in favor of Flack, but it denied her motion on a preliminary injunction
for the statue.
"They hired the assistant and he did
an unacceptable job and it violated her rights," said Barbara Hoffman, Flacks
attorney. Hoffman said the case is on the verge of going on trial.
When Hoffman was asked about Flacks
feeling on the ordeal, Hoffman said, "She worked ten years on this. Its like a
It is not clear whether the statue will
ever be used.
Hoffman said, "For the time being
Catherine is Dead. Whether it will ever be revived is a question."