Statue of Liberty Skin Made From Russian Copper – Exhibit Reignites Mystery

Posted: March 13, 2015 in Society and Culture


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Mining Lady Liberty’s Russian Lineage

by Olga Zaikina on March 6, 2015

PROJECT 59, INC. (IRINA DANILOVA with HIRAM LEVY AND VLADIMIR SELEZNEV), “Mistress Of Copper Mountain” (2015), 59 disassembled cartons, covered with copper leaf

Legend has it that the copper for America’s most famous sculpture — the Statue of Liberty — was produced at the metallurgical factory of Nizhny Tagil, one of the industrial centers of Russia’s Ural region. This story, although well-known in Urals, is hardly ever heard in New York. Despite, or better due to, the hazy scholarship on this issue, it has become a source for an art exhibition, Skin of Liberty: Fractured and re-Structured, held in the Brooklyn Fire Proof Temporary Storage Gallery in Bushwick.

Skin of Liberty is the fourth annual exhibition in Project 59’s BRURAL series, which aims to bring together artists from Brooklyn and Russia’s Ural region. This year, the exhibit focuses on the myth that New York and Nizhny Tagil appear to share around the American national symbol of freedom. A curator of the show, Vladimir Seleznev, chose 26 artists from both cities, whose works, however, are not about uncovering the symbolism of the 1870s statue or claiming Nizhny Tagil’s supremacy in its material production. Rather, the exhibition invites the viewer to reflect on myths surrounding the emergence and legacy of industrialization in the two cities.

An artist himself, Vladimir Seleznev executed a piece “Meeting Distant Objects” in which an image of an old Tagil Metallurgical Plant — which supposedly produced copper for the Statue of Liberty — is overlapped with a glowing image of the Statue. The lights in the gallery space alternately illuminate each of the two images. Never actually meeting, they not only highlight the distance between the two cities but also problematize the relationship between industrial history and a path to the ever-glowing and fragile image of freedom in the late 19th century megapolises. Tagil’s rich copper mines were depleted a long time ago, and the Tagil factory today has been converted into a museum space, like many other industrial sites in New York.

The two cities’ heritage of an industrial past meanders throughout several works. In Oleg Blyablyas’ video, a lone, white sail floats slowly in a tranquil landscape, which appears to be a Nizhny Tagil old, giant crater left after an output of ore two centuries ago and now filled with toxic waste waters by the surrounding factories. Coincidently, the Skin of Liberty exhibit is inconspicuously located two blocks from Newton Creek, a site designated by EPA as one of the most polluted in the United States due to New York’s industrialization.


On the facade of the gallery, itself a former industrial site, Kenneth Pitrobono’s public installation “Industry, Extraction, Displacement” raises political and social critique of post-industrial conditions. The exhibit, however, is not so much interested in presenting what is right and what is wrong, as much as in inviting the viewer to contemplate connections between the past and present of urban life. A copper flower sculpture by Project 59 members suggests this connection: the piece, made of disassembled cartons and covered with copper leaves, is reassembled into a futuristic installation. By reworking Ural folklore stories, the work explores the possibilities and limits of industrial, mythical, and artistic production.

Meeting of Distant Objects

Material and symbolic transformations in urban landscapes activate memory and question the familiar. In a site-specific project “The Wholly Human Security of Two Earth-Clotted Hands,” Kate Stone attempts to recreate a replaced sidewalk section near her house in Brooklyn. The viewer is presented with a photo documentation of this recreation, the artifact itself, and a pseudo-archaeological catalogue of the section’s fragments. The exaggerated preciousness of a banal material fragment of the city’s texture playfully highlights the overlaps of private and public spaces in the urban environment.

In light of historical progression, political and social ideals, and mythic interventions, Skin of Liberty: Fractured and Re-Structured presents the viewer with several coinciding discourses of urban life in New York and Nizhny Tagil. The copper of the Statue of Liberty offers more than just a connection through its material history. It welcomes the viewer to reflect on what art can present when facts or words are uncertain. As a result, the real interaction between two cities occurs within aesthetic and artistic experiment.

ALBERTO MARCOS BURSZTYN “Utilitarian Liberty” (2015), mixed media, 25’ utility lamps, pigeon spikes


Statue of Liberty Made of Russian Copper?

Russian masons could not publicly declare their involvement with the Statue, as their organization was persecuted.
by Valeriy TROITSKIY

To witness the laying of the first STONE into the would-be platform of the Statue of Liberty, more than a hundred people came to Bedlow’s Island. Edward Ehlers announced the list of all items that were placed in a SMALL copper box and lowered it into a HOLLOW space under the first stone.

According to the declared list, under the Statue of Liberty lay buried a copy of the American Constitution, the text of George Washington’s Farewell Address, bronze medals with names of all US Presidents up to Chester Arthur, a portrait of sculptor Bartholdi, and … Russian and Jewish immigrant newspapers of New York City.

The latter circumstances give rise to a new look at the single remaining mystery of humanity’s great memorial, the Statue of Liberty.

Norwegians – candidates No. 1

It would seem that everything is known about the Statue of Liberty: its height, weight, length of its nose, width of its mouth, thickness of its book, as well as numerous other little details. The Statue’s total weight, for instance, is 450 000 pounds; the weight of its copper plates alone is 200 000 pounds. Lady Liberty is only a little more than a hundred years old – a tiny period in historical sense. As commonly known, the Statue, created by a French sculptor Bartholdi, was presented as a gift to American people for the 100-year anniversary of independence. Even at that time, all information about the Statue appeared open; there were no secrets.

One issue concerning the Statue, however, remains enigmatic even today. What copper was used to create one of the most well-known monuments of the world? To be more specific, where did the copper come from? To-day, no historic documentation exists to respond to the question fully.

The leading candidacy for the source of copper can be claimed by several countries at once.

English copper mines in Cornwall and Devon were renowned throughout the world, particularly in the later half of XIX century. Apart from that, judging from geographic convenience, a possible supply of Lady Liberty’s copper skin, as some experts think, may be an English excavation site Swan Sea.

Hamburg and Mansfield are the two most likely nominees from Germany.

In Spain, there was a famous copper mine at Huelva that, for several centuries, remained am-ong the largest of its kind in Europe.

The most probable true source of the Statue’s copper, though, is Norway. Certain Norwegian specialists even maintain that the last Liberty mystery is already solved. In 1870, Norway had a great copper source at Visnes on Karmoi Island in the North Sea. The headquarters of the Norwegian mining company were located in Paris; the proprietor was a Frenchman. Additionally, all raw materials from the mine were delivered to Antwerp and Dunkirk.

The principal argument for Norway arises from a spectrographic analysis. In exploring the theory, a New Jersey company Bell Laboratories analyzed a copper sample from the Statue and compared it to the metal from the Norwegian mine. The conclusion lead researchers to assert that there was a high likelihood for the North Sea theory. The copper samples appeared similar.

Similar… Were they identical? Not quite. There was no unequivocal answer.

A Norwegian origin of the Statue can be spoken of as only a possibility, just like its potential English, German, or Spanish (the Spainish mine was also owned by a Frenchman) roots.

The Russian legend

… For the first time, I heard the story of the copper’s Russian origin from a Russian journalist, who attended an exhibition in Paris. She described her museum guide, a Russian woman, about 45-years-old, who lived in France for two decades. When the journalist’s group passed a smaller model of the American Statue of Liberty in Paris, the guide told the story of the real Liberty’s Russian copper source.

The little story would have been forever forgotten, if I had not once again encountered it in the form of a direct affirmation. Visok-ogorskiy Ore Enrichment Factory of Nizhniy Tagil, in Sverdlovsk Region, Russia, on its official Internet-site, declared that the copper used in the construction of the Statue of Liberty came from Russia.

Let me just briefly remind you the Statue’s story. A French sculptor Frederic-August Bartholdi was commissioned to create a statue dedicated to the American independence centenary in 1876. (There are other theories of the statue’s purpose, but we shall not pursue them here.) Due to funding shortages, the work was not completed on time. The French conducted various charity benefits and lotteries. Americans, in their turn, were occupied with gathering money for building the Statue’s platform. Bartholdi worked on the project with fascination; he produced several preliminary models, smaller than the actual Statue. His assistant, a future celebrity, Gustav Eiffel, designed the internal constructs of the monument. The outer covering was made of copper plates that were manually reshaped as necessary. In the United States, imminently famous Joseph Pulitzer criticized wealthy classes of America for the failure to sponsor the Statue. At last, the money was gathered, and, on July 4, 1884, the Statue was given to the US ambassador in France. Subsequently, the monument got transported to America, installed on the island, and opened with a ceremony on October 28, 1886.

At initial glance, there is no Russian connection in the many-year construction history of the architectural masterpiece. So what is it that gives the Nizhniy Tagil plant the basis to have contrary claims?

I contacted the director of Nizhniy Tagil’s historic museum and inquired whether there was any direct proof of Russian copper’s use. To my surprise, the museum had no evidence. The theory has been passed on through generations as a legend and ensconced itself deep in the people’s beliefs. The director, as usual, complained about the lack of funds to investigate the issue.

Nevertheless, I could gather certain facts, whose great number is simply too big for the Russian theory to be a legend.

Copper takes the gold in Paris

For starters, let’s look at widely-known facts. Many cities in the Urals originated around copper mines and iron ore processing plants. By the end of the XVIII century, 80 percent of all Russian copper coinage was produced in Yekaterinburg. During the XVIII century, Urals region’s steel and copper manufacture plants were among the finest in the world. Nizhniy Tagil’s plants shared the glory. Their mark of excellence was, primarily, iron processing. However, in 1814, experts found a large copper quarry on Mount Viyskiy. By 1850, copper excavation there totaled 10 thousand tons a year (to compare, the Norwegian mine – candidate No. 1 – produced only 3 thousand tons).

Some may object: Urals are far from Western Europe – the edge of the world. People in France would not even know about mines in Russia. Such judgment, though, would be invalid: Russian copper was well known in Europe. The excellent quality of copper and iron from the Urals was highly valued in Europe, particularly in England. Nizhniy Tagil’s copper repeatedly won numerous exhibition contests. In 1851, at London’s World-wide Exhibition, copper and iron from Nizhniy Tagil garnered three bronze medals. Eleven years later, during the Second World-wide Exhibition, Russian copper received gold for “widely-recognized superlative quality.” In 1867, copper form the Russian Demidovskiy Plant won first place at the Paris World’s Fair.

Apart from all else, extensive historic ties existed between Ural copper plants and the French. In his stories, famous Russian writer from the Urals, P. Bozhov, always mentioned French craftsmen who came to exchange techniques with their Russian counterparts. In 1821, Fyodor Zvezdin, as the most gifted Russian pupil of the French, was sent to France to pursue studies of sculpture and iron processing. After 10 years, when he returned, Zvezdin started the first bronze-production factory in the Urals. He was involved in artistic craft as well. His Boy, Taking Out a Splinter, Girl Praying, The Little Bull, and The Antique Vase are now in museums of Nizhniy Tagil and St. Petersburg.

In Nizhniy Tagil, a bronze monument to N. N. Demidov was constructed on the main city square in 1837. The sculptor of the monument was a French master F. G. Bozier.

In 1833, P. N. Demidov devised a plan to create two mineralogical collections: one for Nizhniy Tagil and one for Paris. French engineer Bergié assisted in the collection’s compilation. Later, in 1852, Bergié and another French engineer, Allorie, were awarded by the Russian government for completing the collection.

French-Russian connections, as seen, had deep historic roots. For many decades, French masters worked in the Urals. Local annals chronicle the facts. The “Stariy Sobol” (“Old Sable”) copper brand from Russia was popular throughout all Europe.

Nizhniy Tagil’s records of XIX the century show that 42 foreigners held management positions at Demidov’s ore factories. There were English, Swiss, German, Belgian and Italian engineers. The largest cohort of foreigners, however, – 14 specialists – were from France. Mining engineer P. Leplé was a direct consultant to the Demidovs. Another mining engineer E. Bokar worked as an administrator at Nizhniy Tagil’s plant.

These specialists, together with a multitude of others, strengthened industrial ties between France and Russia.

In such a context, the world-wide distribution of Russian copper appears rather real. In addition to Europe and England, items of Russian copper were exported to India, Asia, and the Middle East.

The Emperor visited the World’s Fair in Paris in person

There is yet one more curious historic fact. Prince Alexander (future Alexander II), during his trip to Siberia, came to Nizhniy Tagil and got personally acquainted with the industry there. Alexander paid his respects to the Demidov’s monument. Thirty years later, the Emperor attended the Paris World’s Fair, where Russian copper took the gold. In honor of Alexander II, Napoleon III organized a military parade and ordered the officers to salute not only the Russian Czar, but also, the quality of Russian copper.

To conclude, let’s present information that was always concealed in Russian history and always openly accessible in American and French records, the story of Masonic Lodges. It is known that sculptor Bartholdi and engineer Eiffel were members of a French Masonic Lodge that helped to gather funds for the Statue project. Alone, the organizers would never be able to collect 3.5 million Francs for the Statue’s construction. Tremendous work had to be carried out. In its own turn, New York’s Masonic Lodge was the sponsor of the Statue’s platform. The relationship between the French and the American Lodges was warm – both had the same goal. Considerable help in money accumulation from the American side, as we know, was offered by a famous publisher Joseph Pulitzer, who gave around 100 000 dollars. The knot of Masonic organizations engaged in Liberty’s creation may well have included Russian Masonic Lodges.

As we know, Nicolas I, after the Decembrist Uprising, prohibited Masonic Lodges in Russia. It, however, did not mean that they ceased to exist. They continued to operate secretly. As it was historically, the Lodges were closely tied to the French. In Russia, Masonic societies included high aristocracy and prosperous industrialists. They had the means and motives to participate in one of the greatest projects of the epoch. The ideas of the Masonic movement were liberty, equality, fraternity. Russian masons could not publicly declare their involvement with the Statue, as their organization was persecuted. This is a justifiable explanation for the mystery of the copper’s origin. Documents confirming the copper’s delivery to France would have had to be concealed.

In any case, there are no precise documents about the origin of Lady Liberty’s copper. I made an inquiry to the headquarters of the European Copper Institute, located in Brussels. The specialists replied that no theories regarding the Statue’s copper have been confirmed yet. There is no documentary evidence.

Perhaps, one day, historians will be able to obtain the little copper box located in the Statue’s foundation. Among other objects, in it is a list of a hundred people. Although the names on the list are known, it is unclear how those people connected to the Statue project. By looking at the names, though, one can see that some of them are Russian.

One more detail for the end. Later, during the erection of the Washington Memorial, the famous J. Pulitzer laid one of the memorial stones and wrote on it – “Joseph Pulitzer – Russian immigrant and Jew.” Why would he write something like that? Everyone knows well that Pulitzer was born in Hungary and immigrated to the US. What was his connection with Russia? Perhaps, it was the copper of the Statue of Liberty.

P.S. After this article had been finally compiled, the official web-site of the US embassy in Yekaterinburg (former Sverdlovsk) published some interesting information: “The roof of the British Parliament Building is made from iron produced in the Urals.” Another article on the site was titled “The Statue of Liberty was constructed of copper, mined in Nizhniy Tagil, a city to the North of Yeka-terinburg.”



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