Strength in Bronze: La Dame de Notre Renaissance Francaise

A tribute to the brave women of Nashua's mills
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“La Dame de Notre Renaissance Francaise” • Photo by Susanna Hargreaves

The Clocktower Place Apartments, in the heart of Nashua, were once working mills — formerly the Nashua Manufacturing Company, a major cotton textile manufacturer from 1823-1945.

In the shadow of those mills, on the banks of the Nashua River just off of Water Street, is a work of art that depicts the history of the hardworking women of the mills who were an intricate part of the foundation of the city.

Encircled by a small garden of red, pink, and white petunias and pretty pansies is “La Dame de Notre Renaissance Francaise” — a beautiful six-foot bronze sculpture of an 1870’s French-Canadian millworker. The sculpture, which was dedicated on May 19 2001, is reminiscent of the women who worked long days in the textile mills to provide for their families. Wearing a long flowing dress, the mother’s arm lovingly embraces her young son who holds a book written in French.

The artist responsible for this brilliant work is Christopher Gowell, and it took her more than two years to create it.

“Several people, so much time and work and fundraising went into this piece,” Gowell says. “It was cast by Campbell Plaster & Iron in Vermont.”

The sculpture was commissioned by the Nashua French Community to honor the Franco-American culture and preserve the history of the mills, Gowell says. For inspiration, Gowell visited the Boot Lowell Cotton Mills Museum to get an idea of the garments worn during that time. A friend created the garment and another friend posed in the uniform.

“I think it is wonderful how the mills are in the background so you can see where the people lived and worked as you view the piece,” she says. “I think seeing the art in context is important. It is also important to know that these were very brave women. It was the women who settled in Nashua and worked. Then they sent for their families to join them.”

Gowell said she is also proud how the piece emphasizes a mother and child and the importance of reading to better themselves in the community.

“I am an ardent reader, and I loved doing a piece of a mother teaching her child to read. I feel reading is the key to happiness and wellbeing,” Gowell says.

According to Gowell, art is an important part of history. She explains how as an artist it is difficult to see sculptures being toppled currently, but she can understand why some of them should be removed.

“Now, I think there should be more sculptures of women in history. It is so important to know their stories.”

Gowell further explains, “I have been an artist for all of my life, and the intricate part of looking at art brings me great joy. I hope schools will emphasize art education. By studying art and its beauty, you can come away with a more enriched life.”

Gowell says she hopes people will enjoy the Nashua sculpture, and also appreciate the history it represents.

“There was so much work and love poured into it to make it possible,” she says.

Christopher Gowell lived in Portsmouth for 10 years, and has taught at the New Hampshire Institute of Art and at UNH. Gowell now has an art studio called Sanctuary Arts in Eliot, Maine, where she continues to sculpt and teach.

The next time you are in Nashua, I hope you get a chance to gaze upon this beautiful adaptation of New Hampshire history. I couldn’t help but notice the sense of pride, determination and devotion the piece instilled in me. Studying her made me see a part of myself. So much has changed. However, a love for family, hard work and the arts remain. I am grateful for the caring community of Nashua for supporting a rich arts program for all to enjoy.

For my mother in-law Camille, and her Nashua French-Canadian ancestors.

For more information on the Nashua Arts, visit City Arts Nashua.

For more information Christopher Gowell, visit christophergowell.com.

Discovering art can be a free, fun, family experience. See how great art can inspire you and your children. For the price of a tank of gas, art lovers don’t have to drive far to experience something meaningful.

Categories: NH History and Outdoor Art
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