Whistler's Mother Statue
One of our favorite mom-uments is the stoic, larger-than-life Whistler's Mother statue in Ashland, Pennsylvania, a town where travelers can also enjoy the geological charms of the Pioneer Tunnel Coal Mine tour and Anthracite Museum.
In 1937, a committee assembled during the annual Ashland Boys Association homecoming sought a way to honor Ashland mothers. They agreed it should be a bronze sculpture based on James McNeil Whistler's famous 1871 painting, "Arrangement in Grey and Black: Portrait of the Painter's Mother" -- aka "Whistler's Mother." The image of Anna Matilda McNeill Whistler, with her severe dress and humorless expression, is not our vision of maternity personified, but in 1937 the mom role models were apparently limited.
The effort proceeded as part of the Work Projects Administration (WPA), the government's busybee program that left a legacy of strange monuments in town squares across the US. On Sept. 4, 1938, the 8-ft. tall statue on a three-ton granite slab was unveiled by two local mothers -- at 88 and 91 years, Ashland's oldest. According to a plaque at its base, the statue officially "honors all mothers, past and present, and is the only one of its kind in the country."
When Mother's Day rolled around the following year, Ashland men who failed to remember candy and a card could simply point across the valley and say "Look Ma! That statue is for you, because you're special."
Maybe it worked once.
Today, visitors park on the hill below on North 3rd St., and climb steep stairs to Mother's granite retreat between Chestnut and Market Streets. She is seated, peaceful, gazing in the general direction of the road to Centralia ("Town atop a burning Coal Mine").
Carved into the Whistler's Mother's pedestal, a line from poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge:
"A Mother is the Holiest Thing Alive."