The Grandmother Steps
The Grandmother Steps

Louise McCagg 1955, P1978 donated her sculpture The Grandmother Steps in honor of Dana’s Centennial on May 22, 1981. This sculpture, originally located in Eastman Circle, is now outside of the Dining Center.

Louise McCagg describes her sculpture in the Centennial Celebration Guide:
For the 100th Anniversary of a school for young women, it seemed right that a sculpture should recall our progenetrix: our caring grandmothers whose accomplishments are varied and whose hopes for us were so strong that they support us even today.  There are other women, too, who encourage us; women of accomplishment who might be called our spiritual grandmothers, women who point to possibilities through their own work, women who help us take upward steps.

It is a portrait of the spirit of these women that I have tried to express in my sculpture.  Each figure represents a field of endeavor: one the visual, the other the literary arts.  Quotes from women working in those respective fields can be read on the sculpture.  All but two of the women are American, and all have worked in the last half of the twentieth century.  I chose these particular quotes because I thought that they might speak to us even without our knowing the work of the individual.  Georgia O’Keefe, for instance, notes how one must use one’s given bent: “It isn’t just talent, You have to have a kind of nerve … a lot of nerve, and a lot of very, very hard work.”  Louise Nevelson wants “… a lot of quality in a lot of quality.” Barbara Chase-Riboud speaks about shaping one’s own life; Friedo Kahlo and Alice Neel talk about their approach to their art.

On the literary grandmother are quoted writers chosen because of different insights they give to their work and their attitudes toward their art: “What do you believe a poem shd do?” asks Ntozake Shange: “A poem shd happen to you like cold water or a kiss.”  Gloria Fuertes, in her gentle, playful voice (and in Spanish) tells us that Death was puzzled because the poet isn’t afraid of her.  Flannery O’Connor gives a clue to the reader about her creative tilt; and the poet, Louise Bogan, to whom hers was the highest art form, tells us that “poetry give reality, freedom and meaning.”  Maya Angelou expresses pride and striving in her words, snatched by me from two of her poems:               

                I rise
                I rise
                I rise


                 I’m a woman
                 Phenomenal woman,
                 That’s me.

My greatest hope is that students will participate with this sculpture on all levels: looking at, hugging, reading, leaning on the grandmothers.  The literary grandmother is stepped lower than the visual grandmother to be at eye level with the younger Dana student, the visual grandmother to be at eye level with the older students.  I hope people will get comfort from the figures and perhaps be enticed by the quotations to find out more about these artists and others who might have been quoted here; artists who speak to us about our concerns; artists who tussle with the oldest human questions: who are we, where are we going, why?

Maya Angelou poem
Maya Angelou Poem on The Grandmother Steps