Press/Journalists

Harold Holzer to Discuss NY Custom House Sculptures November 9
Press Release · Monday, November 2, 2020

Washington, DC

On Monday, November 9, at 6 p.m. (ET), historian and scholar Harold Holzer will discuss “The Four Continents,” the famous Daniel Chester French sculptures adorning New York City’s landmark Alexander Hamilton U.S. Custom House. The National Archives at New York City is on the third floor of this majestic structure. Register to attend. Watch the program livestreamed on the National Archives YouTube channel.

As part of the current conversation around public sculpture, monuments, and memorials, historian Harold Holzer will discuss the context, as well as the development and sculpting, of the Four Continents Statues of the Custom House. Holzer will discuss French’s design as representative of 20th-century America, his work with the Piccirilli sculptors, and the influence of Cass Gilbert, the building's architect, on the statues. 

The Four Continents - A Commission of Daniel Chester French: A Discussion with Harold Holzer will open with a special video introduction from Archivist of the United States David S. Ferriero, Smithsonian Museum of American Indian Executive Director Kevin Gover, and GSA Regional Commissioner Michael Gelber. Assistant Professor of Social Studies and Education at Columbia University Chris Baron will moderate a question-and-answer period following Holzer’s presentation. Presented in partnership with the U.S. General Services Administration and building tenants: the Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian and the National Archives at New York City, in addition to Chesterwood, a National Trust for Historic Preservation site.

The Alexander Hamilton U.S. Custom House, designed by renowned architect Cass Gilbert, was constructed in the early 19th century. In addition to the National Archives at NYC, the building houses the National Museum of the American Indian and the United States Bankruptcy Court for the Southern District of New York. The Four Continents Statues at the building’s entrance represent Asia, America, Europe, and Africa and are prime examples of the City Beautiful movement and national pride during the early 20th century.

Harold Holzer is one of the country's leading authorities on Abraham Lincoln and the political culture of the Civil War era. He is a prolific writer and lecturer and frequent guest on television. His book Monument Man: The Life and Art of Daniel Chester French, is the definitive biography of Daniel Chester French, the artist who created the statue for the Lincoln Memorial, John Harvard in Harvard Yard, and The Four Continents sculptures outside the U.S. Custom House. French (1850–1931) is America's best-known sculptor of public monuments. Holzer's biography combines rich personal details from French's life with a nuanced study of his artistic evolution and beautiful archival photographs of his life and work.

The National Archives at New York City opened in 2013 on the third floor of the Custom House Building. National Archives at New York City Staff work in archives, education, and exhibits. Tours and programs include “Introduction to the Census,” “Passenger Arrival Records,” and “Student Hands-on Archives.” Exhibits have included Be it Remembered, which explored treaties with Native nations, New York on the Record, Remembering Vietnam, and Matthew Henson: From the North Pole to the Custom House, about the Arctic explorer turned customs clerk.

More information online:
National Archives at New York City website
The National Archives at New York, Pieces of History blog
Alexander Hamilton U.S. Custom House and the National Archives at NYC, Google Arts and Culture online exhibit
GSA info on Alexander Hamilton U.S. Custom House including architectural description and construction history

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This page was last reviewed on November 2, 2020.
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