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War memorial by Bashka Paeff dedicated in Kittery, ME

May 31, 1926
Bashka Paeff at work
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Sculptor Bashka Paeff at work in her studio. (Wikimedia Commons.)

On May 31, 1926, a bas-relief bronze and granite memorial to the sailors and soldiers from Maine who died in World War I was dedicated in the coastal town of Kittery. It depicted a woman fiercely protecting her child, a dramatic departure from most war memorials that feature soldiers and guns. The sculptor was Bashka Paeff, a Jewish woman, whose family had emigrated  from Russia to escape the pogroms.

Born in 1893, she grew up in Boston’s crowded North End. She studied at the Massachusetts Normal Art School, the Boston Museum School, and at the MacDowell Colony in NH. She financed her studies working as a toll collector on the Boston subways.

After a state-sponsored competition, Gov. Percival P. Baxter had commissioned the work. It took one and a half years to create and earned Paeff a $15,000 fee, including the costs of casting and installing the sculpture.

In the years after World War I, when feelings about pacifism and militarism ran high, the work became controversial. When it was almost completed, the man who succeeded Baxter as governor objected to it as “too pacifistic.”  Paeff compromised by adding a few soldiers in low relief in the background, as well as military inscriptions.  While she called the statue “The Horrors of War,” it was officially named “Sacrifices of War.” Most Mainers know it as the “Sailors and Soldiers Memorial.” 

Paeff compromised by adding a few soldiers in low relief in the background, as well as military inscriptions. While she called the statue “The Horrors of War,” it was officially named “Sacrifices of War.” Most Mainers know it as the “Sailors and Soldiers Memorial.”

Bashka Paeff clearly intended the sculpture to be a statement against war. “I have some decided opinions about war memorials,” she said. “I hope most of all that we shall not erect memorials to glorify war… We forget what suffering and horror it brought. We should set up memorials that would make us loathe war instead of admire it.”

Paeff produced another war memorial, this one in the Massachusetts State House honoring Bay State chaplains who died during World War I. She also created a relief sculpture of the Minutemen who fought in the first battle of the American Revolution. Her other works include busts of Martin Luther King, Jane Addams, Oliver Wendell Holmes, and Ellen Richards. She made a marble bust of Louis Brandeis.

The home and studio Paeff occupied on the north slope of Beacon Hill still stands. Passersby can see the large windows that brought light into her work space.

Sources

Charlotte Streifer Rubinstein, American Women Sculptors: A History of Women Working in Three Dimensions, Boston, G.K.Hall, 1990; Jennifer Wingate, “Motherhood, Memorials, and Anti-Militarism: Bashka Paeff’s “Sacrifices of War, Women’s Art Journal, Vol. 29, no. 2, page 31.

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Jewish Women's Archive. "This Week in History - War memorial by Bashka Paeff dedicated in Kittery, ME." (Viewed on April 24, 2014) <http://jwa.org/thisweek/may/31/1926/bashka-paeff>.