Portrait of Julie by Isabel McIlvain
It’s probably true that we were born around the same time, at least in a manner of speaking, but my creator and I are, otherwise, quite different. I only stand a few feet tall, unlike her. I’ve lived in Lexington far longer than she ever did. My name is Julie, but hers is Isabel. I don’t have a last name, but hers is fairly well known. Students used to know her as Professor McIlvain, artist-in-residence, Washington and Lee University. They only know me as Julie, comma, portrait of, and that’s only on formal occasions.One really big difference between us is that, in 1982, I stopped aging entirely. To the best of my knowledge, she kept going, though I don’t know for sure. It makes sense though, because aging is not a natural function of people cast in bronze, like yours truly. But please, don’t be jealous. There are tradeoffs, believe me. I haven’t been to sleep in decades... though I suppose I don’t really need to because of the fact that – you know what... I digress. Besides the gift of everlasting, exceedingly localized life, my creator also endowed me with a beautiful flower. I hold it near and dear, because it’s the only thing I really own, save for the shoes and dress, and also ‘cause I don’t really have a choice, but let’s not get into the dangerous little nuances of sculpture morality. That’s a dissertation for another visitor. As I was saying - Isabel fixed my eyes upon that flower for all eternity. Now and forever, I admire its petals and cherish its delicate impermanence that only flowers can embody so forgivably. Therein lies the inherent irony of sculpture, and thus, my very existence, I suppose, because, like my own, my flower’s impermanence has been omitted. Our creator exchanged the flower’s mortality for the endurance of its beauty. The flower and I were exempted from the constraints of time and biology and history, and for almost forty years, we’ve been basking in the fountain of youth. Now, you might make the argument that the true beauty of flowers and all other life forms is actually derived from their eventual loss. But, speaking as an immortal myself, I must say, it’s quite nice to not worry about such pedestrian concerns, despite my earlier quip about sleep and all.But, enough about me. I presume you’d like to know who the real Julie is – a rude enough question for you to pose, might I add, but since conversation is scarce, I guess I had ought to indulge you. Here’s what I’ve gathered, since, as you may have gathered yourself, I’m fairly self-aware for a statue: Julie was a person. She lived in Lexington, Virginia, USA, Earth, probably just like you do. Like the woman who captured her in bronze, I think she was born in the 1940s. By 1982, when I was afforded the noble role of Julie’s immortalization in everyone’s favorite ancient alloy – including the Greeks, incidentally- Julie had a bit of mysterious wistfulness about her. Now, I must confess, I’m not much of a historian – as you can likely tell, my expertise lies primarily in the burgeoning fields of botany and philosophy - but 1982 Julie lived in a new kind of America. In fact, the whole world was changing. The 70s had been tough times for a lot of people all over the place. The war in Vietnam left an ugly scar on recent history. Stagnation and inflation became the norm, especially in the States. Much of the world was exhausted. Trust probably seemed like ignorance. Then, the 1980s
brought about a whole new wave of promises. Culture, politics, music, technology, growth, consumerism. Taxes were lowered. Cold War tension was raised. Sometimes I wonder to myself, in my small but very capable bronze brain: What was Julie pondering in that flower? The simplicity of the olden days? Perhaps, a fragmented childhood memory of playing in the backyard in little Lexington? Before digital watches and nuclear summits, Concorde jets and disco – ugh -- how did little Julie experience the world? Sometimes, I think she misses those days, before the Earth sped up. Usually, I can tell that Julie doesn’t believe she belongs in 1982. Whatever Julie was thinking when she was gazing into that flower and perhaps considering peeling off a petal, Isabel must have thought it was noteworthy, because when she created me, she commissioned me with the same burden of melancholy that Julie carried -at least in terms of appearances- and that’s why I don’t look too terribly happy as you and I so eloquently explore, and dare I add, perform the art of conversation. I do hope you’ll pardon my indiscretion.In any case, thanks for listening, but I should get back to contemplation. Flowers don’t live forever, you know.