New Mexico Madonna of the Trail
Albuquerque, New Mexico
The New Mexico Madonna of the Trail is located at the
intersection of Marble Ave. and Fourth St. in a small park on
the grounds of the Federal Courthouse in Albuquerque, NM.
One of the earliest public
memorial sculptures in New Mexico, Madonna of the Trail, in
Albuquerque has been a local landmark since 1928 when the mayor
led a parade from a downtown hotel to the public plaza. Bands
played patriotic songs at the unveiling of the robust pioneer
mother before a crowd of 500 local citizens. Cast in a pinkish
mixture of crushed marble, Missouri granite, stone, cement, and
lead ore, the stern-faced five-ton Madonna commemorates the
contributions made by women on the road west.
Amazon had sisters. The National Society of Daughters of the
American Revolution (DAR) erected 12 identical statues across
the country during late 1920s. The idea for the statues began in
1909, when a group of women formed a committee to advocate the
locating and marking of the Old Santa Fe Trail in Missouri. The
effort quickly sparked successive groups tied to the DAR and
dedicated to establishing an Old Trails Road--a modern highway
that both connected the country’s coasts and memorialized United
States exploration and settlement. The DAR discussed various
ways of marking the route and ultimately decided to construct
the 12 large markers titled “The Madonna of the Trail.” Between
1928 and 1929, the DAR placed Madonnas in Springfield, Ohio;
Wheeling, West Virginia; Council Grove, Kansas; Lexington,
Missouri; Lamar, Colorado; Albuquerque, New Mexico;
Springerville, Arizona; Vandalia, Illinois; Richmond, Indiana;
Beallsville, Pennsylvania; Upland, California; and Bethesda,
Maryland--one in every State through which the National Old
Trails Road passed.
The one on the central square in
Albuquerque was number six. Santa Fe, however, almost got the
statue. The reason Albuquerque got the statue in the end is
because the monument did not blend well with the Spanish-style
art and architecture of Santa Fe. And, more to the point, the
Albuquerque DAR chapter came up with funds to ship the monument
before the Santa Fe chapter did.
Not everyone in
Albuquerque was pleased with the new piece of public art. At
least one citizen, Mary Austin, voiced her negative opinion in
the press. She wrote, “not only is the statue indifferent art,
but as a descendant of a long line of Pioneer Mothers myself . .
. I regard the proposed monument a caricature.” To be fair, the
melodramatic design was reflective of the patriotic zeal of its
era. Sculptor August Leimbach was straightforward in expressing
his admiration for his no-nonsense female paragon of frontier
strength wearing remarkably durable boots. According to Leimbach,
the idea he had in mind was that this strapping woman was
waiting for her husband at a block house in the West. The father
had not arrived home as promised. Baby in one arm, gun in the
other, and an extra child clinging to her skirts, the granite
Madonna strides out to search the horizon.
objections aside, Albuquerque welcomed the monument with open
arms. It was placed in the city’s McClellan Park facing Route
66, the main highway through the city. The statue looked out on
Route 66 until 1937 when a new alignment moved the highway south
to Central Avenue.
In 1996, the sculpture was in need of
cleaning and repair. Restoration work included removal of the
soot and dirt and repair of holes and gouges with mortar.
Following its restoration, the statue was relocated
approximately 100 feet north of its old location, due to the
construction of a new Federal courthouse on the block. The
monument was rededicated at its new site on September 27, 1998.
Although moved a short distance, the monument continues
to be oriented toward the 1926-1937 era roadbed of Route 66
through the city. The Albuquerque monument retains its integrity
of setting, design, and feeling. The only other Madonna that has
retained its integrity is the one in Upland, California. The
Albuquerque Madonna of the Trail was listed in the National
Register of Historic Places in 2006. The Albuquerque
statue remains a local landmark, a physical remnant of 1920s
ideas about the connection between trans-Atlantic automobile
travel and western settlement, and a tribute to the women who
helped move the country westward along its earliest roadbeds.