“What is the status of the statue of Thorfinn Karlsefni that was vandalized, knocked off of its pedestal at the western end of Boathouse Row and pushed into the Schuylkill River? Is it still in the river? Or has it been retrieved and is awaiting reinstallation?” one reader asked, through our Curious Philly portal.
Curious Philly is where readers ask us questions, and our reporters hunt down the answers.
The answer to this one, from the city’s Office of Arts, Culture and the Creative Economy, is that the statue “is at the conservator’s studio,” according to an email from Public Art Director Margot Berg. “We currently do not have a timetable for reinstallation.”
The statue, potentially, looms as an ongoing source of conflict and expense, which makes it complicated.
The statue had (in 2008 and 2013) become a rallying point for white nationalists on Leif Erikson Day (Oct. 9), which is likely why vandals preemptively knocked it off its pedestal and into the water Oct. 2, 2018. No arrests were made, and a police spokesman said: “We have no updated information at this time concerning this incident.”
We asked Berg if the statue’s flash-point status has affected the timetable for its reinstallation.
“The City is aware of the unfortunate appropriation of this statue by some white nationalists, and we are taking that into consideration as we complete the conservation and plan next steps,” Berg noted.
The statue had stood at the end of Boathouse Row since 1920. It was created by Icelandic sculptor Einar Jónsson, who was paid a commission using funds from a bequest to the Fairmount Park Art Association, now the Association for Public Art.
The funds were to be used to create sculptures “emblematic of the history of America.” An inscription at the base of the statue says that Karlsefni followed Erikson to North America in 1003, and stayed for three years before returning to Iceland.
Jónsson created two identical statues of Karlsefni. The second stands in the northeast section of Reykjavík, Iceland. Jónsson is a celebrated artist in Iceland, and a visit to the Jónsson museum is considered a leading tourist attraction. The statue of Karlsefni that exists in Reykjavík is apparently visited far less often than the museum, is unknown to many locals, and is certainly not a focal point of provocative rallies.
The Philadelphia statue, now slated for repair, is city property.