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August 24, 2018

History Lesson: American Merchant Mariners’ Memorial

Among the many sculptures and memorials that line Battery Park, the American Merchant Mariners’ Memorial is one that beckons for a closer study. The sculpture sits just south of Pier A and mere steps from Wagner Battery Park, and is actually the work of a woman, sculptor Marisol Escobar, who was one of the most significant artists of the Pop era and a long-time resident of Lower Manhattan. Escobar was most well-known for her box-like figurative sculptures as well as for her affiliation with the Pop Art movement and its star, Andy Warhol. To many within the art world, her work on the Mariners’ memorial is surprising, as the figures are more realistic and resonate more emotional drama than her other pieces.

In this stunning display of American history, Escobar sought to depict merchant marines on a sinking lifeboat. The piece was inspired by a photograph showing the victims of a U-boat attack on an American tanker. In 1991, she dedicated the memorial to all of the American merchant mariners from the Revolutionary war to the present. Case in point, inscribed on the boat’s interior are the names of 6,700 merchant seamen lost at sea during WWI and WWII.

 

If you look closely at the American Merchant Mariners’ Memorial, a storyline seems to unfold. One plot features a mariner kneeling and staring forward, just as another crewman braces his footing on the capsizing boat, crying out for help. Below, a fellow crewman lies down to get into position in order to rescue his shipmate who has fallen into the water. Half submerged, the fallen mariner looks up and reaches for his mate’s hand. The scene is emotional drama at its finest. Whether it represents a potential rescue, or possible loss, we’ll never know.