The New Rochelle Council on the Arts was the lead agency in the effort to erect the statue of E.L. Doctorow that was installed at Huguenot Park on October 13, 2023.
E. L. Doctorow, one of the most important novelists of the 20th century — and a man who made his home in New Rochelle for many years – passed away in 2015. Responding to requests from residents Mayor Noam Bramson appointed a committee — including members of the New Rochelle Council on the Arts (Theresa Kump Leghorn and Billie Tucker) and the New Rochelle Fund for Educational Excellence (Steve Silverman and Stephanie Tomei), along with City Historian Barbara Davis and Mrs. Helen Doctorow — to consider how best to honor his memory. The committee proposed the three-part Doctorow Legacy Initiative, which included a Heritage Award designation for the Doctorow’s former home, programming in the public schools and a piece of public art to be placed at Huguenot Park.
The site was selected to echo the bronze statue of Huguenot settler Jacob Leisler that has stood at the base of Broadview Avenue since 1913. Located at the geographical center of New Rochelle, the site is also near Doctorow’s Broadview Avenue home, which inspired his award-winning novel Ragtime (the Leisler statue that makes an appearance in the book). Ragtime also became a film and a Tony Award winning Broadway musical.
The Doctorow Legacy Initiative committee issued an international RFP, receiving proposals from as far away as Turkey and Spain, and ultimately selected sculptor Derek Chalfant for the task. The new public art was funded through generous donations from Mr. Doctorow’s literary agent, publishing house, and family friends, as well as a $125,000 New York State grant secured by Assembly Member Amy Paulin.
The statue was created by sculptor Derek Chalfant, who used the actual shoes and items of clothing worn by E.L. Doctorow to create a mold that was then cast in bronze. The statue is roughly 6 feet 3 inches in height; it stands on a 30-inch-tall limestone base that weighs 6,000 pounds.
The sculptor intended this work of public art to encourage literacy as well as commemorate the author. The figure of E.L. Doctorow is standing on an oversized version of his first book, “Welcome to Hard Times” – the symbolic “foundation” of his future works – and copies of 11 of his books (cast in bronze using rubber molds of the actual books) are stacked in front of him The figure holds his final book, “Andrew’s Brain,” in his left hand. The statue is oriented so that Doctorow looks toward his home near the top of Broadview Avenue.
The statue was dedicated on Sunday, October 22nd during ArtsFest with an event that included a performance by the New Rochelle High School Chorale and remarks by NRCA President Theresa Kump Leghorn, Mayor Noam Bramson, Mrs. Helen Doctorow and her son Richard Doctorow.
About E.L. Doctorow
Edgar Lawrence “E. L.” Doctorow (Jan. 6, 1931 – July 21, 2015) was an author, editor, and professor, known internationally for his works of historical fiction, including Loon Lake, The Waterworks, The Book of Daniel, Welcome to Hard Times, The March and Ragtime (named one of the 100 Best Books of the 20th Century). Described as one of the most important American novelists of the 20th century, E.L. Doctorow was the recipient of numerous writing awards, including three National Book Critics Circle Awards (for Ragtime, Billy Bathgate, and The March), and the American Academy of Arts and Letter Gold Medal for Fiction. President Barack Obama called him “one of America’s greatest novelists.”
About Derek Chalfant
Derek Chalfant is an Associate Professor of Art at Elmira College, located in the Finger Lakes region of upstate New York. Born in Danville, Indiana, Chalfant earned received a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree from Herron School of Art at Indiana University- Purdue University at Indianapolis and a Master of Fine Arts from The University of Notre Dame. He has been teaching Art and Art History at Elmira College since 2003. He exhibits his sculpture and furniture nationally and is continually being commissioned to design and make artwork.