After purchasing Rosslyn, George McNulty, presented us with a bronze sculpture born of his own hands and imagination. Standing with arms outstretched, extended skyward, the figure’s celebratory posture exudes joy and pride. In my view, McNulty’s miniature man appears to be celebrating or perhaps praising, arms reaching upward toward the heavens. Rosslyn Rapture, I’ve titled it (albeit only in my mind.) With no permission from the artist to name/rename his work, you’ll note no plaque adorning the base, no engraved nametag competing for attention. In fact, until now I’ve kept mostly mum about my personal title for McNulty’s sculpture. It felt presumptuous to impose my narrative, my interpretation onto another’s creation.
And while we didn’t have Rosslyn Rapture plaqued, we did have it mounted on a small marble base for display. When we received the sculpture a couple of bolts protruded from the bottom of the feet for mounting. Since, at first, the figure could not be exhibited without a base, we held it in our hands. We felt the weighty bronze, ran our fingertips over the textured surface shaped by the fingers of a man who invested almost four decades into studying and documenting and slowly restoring the buildings which we now call home. We traced the figure’s lanky limbs and placed our fingertips into the sculpture’s tiny palms. There was an intimacy. A connection. Or so I chose to believe.
In time I came to see the sculpture as McNulty’s exaltation for a home and a heritage that he loved. A man exalted with reverence. It was a hypothesis that fit the man I’d briefly come to know. It was a hypothesis consistent with the anecdotes and memories shared by his Essex friends and neighbors. It was a hypothesis that justified his commitment—spanning almost four decades—to preserving this historic property. But mostly, as I’ve come to learn in the years since, it was a hypothesis that helped me explain my own love affair with Rosslyn. I realize now that I was ascribing my own passion for this property onto the previous owner. I was enraptured with Rosslyn, with our new life at Rosslyn, and with the prospect of restoring this stately home and grounds to the restrained elegance still evident but fading. I had reimagined this art as an artifact of the previous owner’s passion and devotion for Rosslyn when in fact my hypothesis was first and foremost self referential.
A Bronze Sculpture
In short, I realize now that Rosslyn Rapture was my creation. McNulty’s was a bronze sculpture of a man with outreached arms and open hands lifted high. I saw a man grasping for something or praising a higher being. Or perhaps the man’s adulation was for a woman with whom he was impassioned? But fancy clouds my vision. The man’s arms are outreached. That is clear. Whether in praise or celebration or something altogether different, only the sculptor knows.
For many years the figure has presided over our living room from his perch on the mantle above the northern fireplace. When I gave George McNulty’s son, Jason, a house tour a few year after completing our renovation, he immediately spotted the sculpture.
“What happened to the baby?” he asked.
“What do you mean?” I responded, confused.
“The man was originally holding a baby up in the air,” he explained.
It had never even occurred to me that there might have been another part of the sculpture, a part now missing. A baby. That’s what he’s lifting up and celebrating.
I explained to Jason that we had not removed the baby. We had never even seen the baby. Aside from the addition of a marble base, this is exactly how the sculpture looked when it was gifted to us by Jason’s father.
Probably his father had made two versions, Jason suggested, one with a baby, and one without. Or perhaps the baby was cast separately and conjoined afterward.
Both possibilities seem possible, probable even. Imagination flushes out the narrative. George McNulty sculpts the man out of clay, creates a mold from the original, and—using the lost wax process—casts several bronze replicas. Separately and by the same process, he casts bronze babies which he then welds to the man’s hands. One of the figures, for some mysterious reason, remains empty handed. No baby.
I found myself, wondering if his son, now standing in the living room of the house where he had grown up, might perhaps have been the inspiration for the sculpture, maybe even the model. The man did, after all, resemble his father. And the baby? Anybody’s guess.
It occurs to me later that there’s another possibility. Perhaps each of the figures originally held a baby high in the air. But one broke. Or the sculptor removed it. Maybe that’s why he gave it to me, because it was an incomplete piece. This seems like a reasonable hypothesis, and maybe it’s correct. But I prefer the possibility that he gifted us this version because it leaves open the hands, open the possibility that Rosslyn is the subject of the man’s ecstasy.
What do you think?