Statue Of Dickens Girl Loses Footing

Posted: December 05, 1989

Little Nell is in big trouble.

But her friends vow that help is on the way.

After spending the past 88 years in a West Philadelphia park fastened by three bronze pins at the feet of her literary creator, author Charles Dickens, Little Nell today is flat on her back at a Department of Recreation warehouse in South Philadelphia.

"Fortunately, she is intact, and not without her friends," said Mike Hardy, a spokesman for The Friends of Clark Park, the community group working to get Little Nell back on her feet - or more precisely, her pedestal.

Three weeks ago, vandals wrenched Little Nell from her pedestal at the foot of the Dickens statue in Clark Park, 43rd Street and Chester Avenue. It is believed to be the only statue of the famed English author in the world.

Hardy said the vandals unbolted a wooden support slat from a park bench, then used it as a lever to rip Little Nell away from the man who created the tragic heroine of "The Old Curiosity Shop."

"It was an act of cruel and senseless vandalism," Hardy said.

Nell's right foot was broken, and there are several cracks in her body, including one across her head.

Dickens himself remains seated in an armchair atop a five-foot granite base, but he is three inches off center as a result of the pressure vandals exerted in dislodging Little Nell.

Estimates to repair Little Nell and reunite her with Dickens range from $5,000 to $10,000.

"We have spoken with art conservators in Philadelphia and New York City. The work is historically priceless, an extremely fine piece of Victorian sculpture, so its restoration will cost a great deal of money," explained Hardy, a historian who teaches at Community College of Philadelphia.

The statue, the work of New York sculptor Frank Elwell, was cast at the Bureau Brothers Foundry in Philadelphia. It won a gold medal in 1891 from the Philadelphia Art Club.

But when Elwell took the work to London, he learned Dickens had expressly discouraged all public monuments to himself.

Thanks, but no thanks, said Henry Fielding Dickens, the novelist's son, to Elwell, who shipped the statue back to America.

The Fairmount Park Art Association raised $7,500 in 1900 to purchase the work, and the following year placed it in Clark Park.

Clark Park was named after Clarence H. Clark, a bank president and one of the founders of the Union League. Clark deeded the 9.1 acres that make up the park today - once a 19th-century dumping ground - to the city of Philadelphia.

The Friends of Clark Park is planning a series of fund-raisers to bring Little Nell back to West Philadelphia, and is asking the public for donations.

Donations may be sent to The Friends of Clark Park, Dickens Statue, P.O. Box 41844, Philadelphia, Pa. 19101.

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