the Bethesda Fountain in Central Park
Angels in America Part Two: Perestroika concludes at the Bethesda Fountain in Central Park. Atop the fountain is an eight foot bronze statue of a female angel known as the “Angel of the Waters”. This name refers to the angel who blessed the healing waters in the pool of Bethesda in the Gospel of John. Water in the fountain cascades from an upper basin into a large pool filled with plants such as water lilies, papyrus and lotus. The fountain also features four cherubim representing Temperance, Purity, Health and Peace. While the pool at the base of the fountain was designed by Calvert Vaux, the co-designer of Central Park, the fountain sculpture was designed by Emma Stebbins in 1868. As Louis notes in Perestroika, Stebbins was a lesbian and had a lifelong relationship with the noted actress and native Philadelphian Charlotte Cushman. “The Angels of the Waters” made Stebbins the first woman in New York City to receive a public commission for a major work of art. At 26 feet high, the Bethesda Fountain is one of the largest fountains in the city.
The fountain was built to commemorate the opening of the Croton Aqueduct in 1842 and the arrival of fresh water from Westchester County to New York City. The fountain and the terrace that surround it went under a major renovation in the mid-1980s. Among other refurbishments, the fountain was cleaned, repainted and resealed in 1988. It now undergoes an annual washing and waxing by bronze specialists.