Taking You There: ‘Seated Maiden Lacing Her Sandal’

October 8, 2020 Updated: October 8, 2020
seated maiden with blue background
“Seated Maiden Lacing Her Sandal,” 1920, by Ernst Seger. Alabaster and bronze; 16.5 inches tall. (Courtesy of Wayne A. Barnes)

A young woman walks down a trail through the woods. She has been this way many times—as though it is her trail, her woods.

She takes the turns around tree and boulder, a slow descent, and finally hears a familiar sound.

It is water tumbling through the air and into a pool below. There is a mellow percussion as it joins the splash at the base of the falls. Around the next bend, she is upon it—more than a pond, not large enough to be a lake—a welcoming body of water sheltered by tall trees.

It is morning, and mist is suspended just above the surface. The sun finds its way through leaves and branches to create a million sparkles.

It is her time to bathe, and she undresses. She slips off her sandals and shakes her head, long tresses flowing past her shoulders. Her robe is tossed across a low boulder, its folds cascading to the ground.

She knows the mountain lake is cold, fed by distant melting snows from the higher range. It may be frigid, but it enlivens her. After a few moments, the water begins to cleanse instead of bite. It soothes her soul.

A round rock halfway from the shoreline breaks the surface. She stops on her way and mounts the gray granite. She kneels, perched as the mermaid in Copenhagen’s harbor, but nary a traveler will ever see her here—not a lonely place, but a place to be alone.

She rises to her full height, arms stretched above, and dives into the deep blue-green. She moves rhythmically through the water, dolphin-like, then a wide-arc pull of her arms brings her to the surface. The waterfall churns but a few feet away. She revels in it, plunging with a perfect surface dive. She is lithe and lively, a water nymph frolicking in her liquid domain.

Leisurely strokes bring her back to shore, and she sits upon her tousled robe. She takes a deep breath, nostrils flaring, and raises her chin to see blue sky through the boughs above. She quickly fixes her hair into a low bun. A dark amulet, a single band, a gift from her father, encircles her upper left arm, contrasting with her alabaster flesh.

She picks up a sandal and reclines to slide it onto her foot. It is the beginning of another day. But she cannot know this moment will be captured in stone. The year is 1920, and it will be 99 more before her image, in this idyllic place, will be described in long-deserved words. And thank you, Ernst Seger, for bringing to life, this—”Seated Maiden Lacing Her Sandal.”

Seated Maiden Lacing her Sandal 2019-07-30 in sunlight
The maiden in my sunlit living room. (Courtesy of Wayne A. Barnes)

Some pieces of art move me so that I am compelled to write about them—what they look like, but more often, how I see the scene in its own history. This is what the series “Taking You There” is about.

This article, reprinted with permission, was originally published on WayneBarnesWriting.com 

Wayne A. Barnes was an FBI agent for 29 years working counterintelligence. He had many undercover assignments, including as a member of the Black Panthers. His first spy stories were from debriefing Soviet KGB defectors. He now investigates privately in South Florida.