Cathedrals of Wall Street [Florine Stettheimer]

Griff Stecyk

Contributor

Florine Stettheimer captures America at a crossroads.

Behold Manhattan, 1939: the last carefree days of unbridled optimism between the Great Depression and World War II. Pearl Harbor is still two years off, but the devastating effects of the stock market crash have been mitigated by the sudden boom of war production for Europe. The World’s Fair is in town, it’s the 150th anniversary of George Washington’s inauguration, and New Yorkers are in the mood to party. The stylish fairground showcases the best of modern life, including a silly little novelty item called “Television.” A few fairgoers, dizzy with cotton candy and thrill rides, stop to notice that the lights have gone out in the Polish pavilion...Hitler has just invaded. Soon the collective dream of a glistening, art deco metropolis of the future will be shattered forever.

On Wall Street, however, the celebration is in full swing.  First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt (in the blue dress), and Mayor La Guardia watch a pageant of marching bands and majorettes.  Elanor’s hubby FDR is carved in marble on a fantasy facade of the New York Stock Exchange, together with financial giants Bernard Baruch, John D. Rockefeller and J.P. Morgan. Stettheimer pokes fun at the strong arm of banking in politics. We wish more has changed.

Florine Stettheimer makes her signature cameo on the far right, offering a patriotic bouquet to the golden idol of George Washington. Stettheimer was nearly 70 when she painted this, but she portrays herself as a gorgeous young flapper circa 1920. She has also magnanimously erased quite a few pounds pounds from Mrs. Roosevelt’s waistline. Before botox and liposuction, artistic license was a girl’s best friend.

On the left, the Salvation Army preaches its message of charity and renunciation of worldly riches, adding a touch of irony to this carnival of capitalistic flag-waving.  Viewers familiar with Urban Dictionary may be startled by the words “Glory Hole” painted boldly atop the canopy of the Salvation Army platform.  Apparently it’s a term for a closet containing a miscellaneous assortment of junk, referring perhaps to a collection booth?  But we do not recommend googling “Glory Hole” unless your safesearch is on...Trust us.