No one knows where the Noyes Armillary Sphere is today. Over the last few years I have personally called the Smithsonian & the National Park Service inquiring about the sculpture’s existence, but all have said it is lost. I genuinely find that difficult to believe because its not a small sculpture, but a rather large one. Some day in the future I would like to see this sculpture replaced and over time I hope to post more photographs and articles about this lost sculpture of Washington, DC.
According to the Smithsonian Institution Research Information System:
The sculpture originally consisted of two equal rings representing the Meridian and Equator, intersecting to form a sphere. Each intersecting ring was divided into areas representing the equinoxes and the Arctic and Antarctic regions. A wide bronze ring was adorned with the signs of the zodiac…. The base of sphere designed by Horace Peaslee, the architect of Meridian Park. The sphere was accepted by the U.S. Commission of Fine Arts in 1929, and was purchased with funds donated by Bertha Noyes, founder of the Washington Arts Club, in memory of her sister Edith. The sphere was vandalized during the 1960s and was removed from the park for repair. During this time, the sphere disappeared, with only the small winged figure of a child remaining.
National Park Service Photograph Courtesy of the Library of Congress
Armillary Sphere Donated to ‘Federal City’ by Author; Ancient Astronomical Device Links Early Chinese to Modern Americans.
The bronze sphere, 16 feet in circumference, bears the words: “Given to the Federal City, MCMXXXVI, for Edith Noyes.” It is the gift of Bertha Noyes, noted Washington artist, in memory of her sister.
Although the origin of the armillary sphere as an astronomical instrument is shrouded in mystery, its invention is usually credited to China, where it was first in use in approximately 200 B. C.
The Noyes memorial was designed by C. Paul Jennewein, New York sculptor, whose other works in Washington include the statue of a nude with fawn in Judiciary Square which was erected in memory of Joseph James Darlington, a District Supreme Court justice. Its placement in 1922 stirred a heated controversy.
Mounted on a granite pedestal three feet in height, the sphere has the signs of the Zodiac in relief on the outside of the great circle, within which are cleverly contrived the hours of the day marked in Roman numerals. In the center is a winged figure of a child greeting the sun.
At the base is a tablet, also of bronze, which corrects minor variations of the dial at different times of the year. Adjustments were made by a Columbia University astronomer in order that the instrument might be scientifically exact.
This newspaper article was obtained from the Washington Post historical newspaper archives. This article is not in the public domain but is being republished here under the fair use doctrine of U.S. copyright law in order to advocate for a replacement armillary sphere in Meridian Hill Park.
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