By Richard O Jones
Hamilton’s first public fountain — and a familiar sculpture in the city before there was a City of Sculpture — has since 2013 resided in a pocket park at the corner of Martin Luther King Boulevard and High Street, a classical counterpoint to the modern “Hamilton Gateway” across the way.
This makes “Hebe, Nymph of Streams and Brooks” one of the City of Sculpture’s most visible works.
After discussing the bank’s role in bringing electric lights to the city streets, the history says, “In addition to its many contributions toward the betterment of Hamilton, the First National Bank gave, for free public use, a very handsome drinking fountain, the first public drinking fountain in the city, much sought by man and animal. On the street side there was a large circular container for horses, while close to the street were small ones for dogs and other smaller animals. The fountain was on High Street, near the main entrance of the bank.”
Oddly enough, when that history was written, the fountain was no longer on High Street.
Local historian Jim Blount said that it was removed and discarded in 1928 to make way for construction of the new First National Bank building.
“For the next 47 years, it stood in the yard of a private residence on Haldimand Avenue on Hamilton’s West Side,” Blount said.
First National Bank re-acquired it in 1975 in preparation for observance of the United States Bicentennial. After restoration work at the Hamilton Foundry, it was reinstalled in 1976 on High Street in front of the bank.
The fountain was included in a 1994 Save Outdoor Sculpture initiative and is described in a Smithsonian Institution inventory: “The nymph Hebe stands atop a public drinking fountain. She wears a robe hanging from her shoulders and tied at her waist and her hair is tied behind her head. Her proper right arm extends down her side, holding a pitcher in her proper right hand. Her proper left arm is bent upwards at the elbow; her proper left hand is at shoulder height holding a drinking cup. She stands atop an ornamented base with water spouts within relief fish heads. The front and back spouts have basins underneath. A kerosene lamp may originally have been installed in her left palm.”
It is a replica of a fountain and statue in Copenhagen, Denmark, designed by a Danish sculptor, Bertel Thorvaldsen (1774-1844). He also created a statue of Hebe which is in The Louvre in Paris, France.
As a young man, Thorvaldsen went to Italy to study classical sculpture and while living in Rome became a leading figure in the classical revival. His most famous works are allegorical reliefs and statues of classical subjects, such as Cupid and Psyche, which is located in the Thorvaldsen Museum in Copenhagen).
His return from Rome to settle in Copenhagen was regarded as a national event in Danish history, Blount said.
A large portion of his fortune went to the endowment of a Neoclassical museum in Copenhagen designed to house his collection of works of art, the models for all his sculptures.
By his own wish, Thorvaldsen was buried there.
In mythology, Hebe was the daughter of Zeus and Hera and was said to have the power to make old people young again. In some sources, she was an attendant to Aphrodite, the goddess of beauty, and a wife to Heracles.
Hebe has found her new home as a result of a deal struck in 2013 between First Financial and the City of Hamilton.
The bank agreed to demolish the building it owned at that corner to create a park and relocate the fountain in exchange for city-owned parking area off of Market Street.
A version of this story originally appeared in the Hamilton Journal-News, Sept. 15, 2013