Book Review: ‘The Statues of Central Park’

Coffee table book sheds light on art we neglect
TIMEJuly 18, 2019

With its 843 acres, New York City’s Central Park has long been a mecca for those seeking a moment of tranquility while they temporarily escape the teeming metropolis that surrounds them. However, they often overlook the park’s many sculptures, statues, and monuments. Yet as June Eding makes crystal clear in “The Statues of Central Park” each of these works carries its own significance—from commemorating a specific moment in history to saluting an individual whose deeds left an indelible mark.

statues of central park, the cover
The cover of a coffee table book by June Eding, “The Statues in Central Park: A Tribute to New York City’s Most Famous Park and Its Monuments.”

Written by Eding with photography by Catarina Astrom, this coffee table book lovingly shines a spotlight on the approximately 140 statues located in Central Park. These basically fall into three categories: fictional characters, such as Mother Goose, Peter Pan, and Romeo and Juliet; those who made historical, scientific, or artistic contributions, such as Alexander Hamilton, Frederick Douglass, and Duke Ellington; and those that serve as symbolic reminders in one form or another. Falling into this last category are such statues as “The Falconer”‘ and “Still Hunt,” the latter depicting a panther getting ready to pounce on its prey.

Offering far more than simply a map with each statue’s location (although a map of the park is provided as well), the book briefly details the history of each of these works. The entries include a generous supply of interesting trivia, which keeps the book from becoming just another reference guide of facts.

For example, did you know that Central Park’s Bethesda Fountain, as it is commonly known (its actual name is “Angel of the Waters”), honors the opening of New York’s Croton water system in 1842? Or that the statue of Fred Lebow, founder of the New York City Marathon, is moved from its usual location each year on the day of the marathon and placed near the finish line of the race?

statues of central park Bethesba fountain
“Angel of the Waters” fountain. (Catarina Astrom)

You can also learn about the statue of the Danish author Hans Christian Andersen, the beloved writer of children’s books. (The figure has a tiny duckling statue nearby.) Or stop by to see the statue of Balto, a black-and-white Alaskan malamute that was the lead sled dog of a team that delivered life-saving medicine to Nome, Alaska, in 1925. Balto was present at the dedication ceremony for the statue that bears his name.

statues of central park Hans Christian Andersen
The statue of Danish author Hans Christian Andersen. (Catarina Astrom)

What really makes the book worth owning is Astrom’s wonderful photographs. She takes pains to showcase each of the statues in all their majestic glory, whether shown in sunlight or in shadow.

statues of central park Balto
The statue of Balto, a black-and-white Alaskan malamute. (Catarina Astrom)

An added plus is that the photos were taken at different times during the year, which allows readers to see not only the statues but also Central Park in different seasons: from a blooming cherry tree in the background of one picture, to a backdrop of multicolored leaves, or statues covered with snow in others. One section of the book features photographs only, with no text to distract from the impact the pictures convey.

In addition to introductory notes by Eding and Astrom, as well as accompanying text by Eding, the book also contains a foreword by Mitchell J. Silver, commissioner of the New York City Department of Parks and Recreation. It provides an overall history of Central Park and why, since its initial completion in 1873, it has come to mean so much to so many.

Offering a chance to learn the story of historical figures you may have long forgotten or never known about in the first place, “The Statues of Central Park” presents a compelling case for why these statues are worth a second, or perhaps a third, look. A few of them may just entice you to learn more about the people and situations they honor.

‘The Statues of Central Park
By June Eding
Photography by Catarina Astrom
Hatherleigh Press, Ltd.
192 pages, hardcover $24.95

Judd Hollander is a reviewer for and a member of the Drama Desk and the Outer Critics Circle. He can be reached at 

Judd Hollander is a reviewer for and a member of the Drama Desk and Outer Critics Circle.