Friday, November 2, 2012

CECIL W. KILGORE'S STATUE OF THE NAKED LADY


As a child growing up in a rural environment, we accepted with simplicity the things of nature, the things of family, the things of God, and the things of life in general.   That time was the 1940’s and the 1950’s. The place was a rural country setting, five miles from Nauvoo, Alabama. 

Money was scarce, but love abounded.  Meals were simple. Food came from what was raised on the farm, sprinkled with a few rations from the government, and some staples purchased from a local grocery store.  Clothes were hand- made by a loving mother—shirts made out of flower sacks and blue jeans purchased from the Jasper Fair Store.  Life was the same for everyone during those struggling, but happy days.

We were a Godly, conservative family who worked hard and played hard.  Our playmates were more than friends.  They were our first cousins.  My dad was so conservative and strict that he did not allow playing cards in the house.  He also did not permit movie theater attendance, nor social functions when the locations were questionable.  My dad did not swear or curse.  He did not smoke, nor did he drink.  He lived to a very high standard.  Self- control and discipline were at the very fiber of my daddy’s being.  He was clean- cut and reliable—steadfast and sure.  He also instilled and enforced strict discipline in us.  He was a perfect example of a good man in every sense of the word.  He was of the highest character. 

I say all that to say this:  There was a statue of a naked lady in our home!  Having such a statue certainly did not fit the picture of my dad as I have described him.!  He would not have permitted any “girly” magazines or any questionable pictures.  Then why the naked lady standing erect and tall on her tip toes, pointing her hands to the heavens as she propped open our front door?   We always made fun of the statue of the lady.   But as we grew older, we understood that art statues typically are showing the beauty of the human form. At the same time, when the pastor visited us, the statue of a lady was quickly removed from the living room to a place out of sight.  I am sure it was out of respect, or maybe we just did not want him to think any less of us.  Thinking back on it, it is humorous remembering how we scurried about hiding the white, little naked lady.  This still does not answer the question of why the statue was part of our home’s d├ęcor.    

This is how it all came about.  When Daddy graduated from Winston County High School in 1940, he went to Birmingham to find work. During that time, he lived with his sister Ruby and her husband, Johnny Chadwick.  Daddy got a job at Continental Gin Company, located at 4500 5th Avenue, South in Birmingham, Alabama 35222.  (Of course, back then there was no zip code indicated the area of the city.) 
Old Photograph of Continental Gin during its prime

Continental Gin was located in the East Avondale area of the city where US 78 intersects 5th Avenue, South.  The company was extremely large, having multiple structures on 170 acres of land.  It was an industrial facility with a major presence in the city.  It was founded in 1925 and was going strong in the 40’s because it was an authorized, federally funded facility during World War II.  The company’s original business was that of making cotton ginning machinery.  But during the war, the company produced rocket bodies for the Navy, and also fuses and projectiles.   Daddy’s first job was working in the foundry of Continental Gin.   
  
(As a side note, Continental Gin is no more.  The Continental Gin property is presently on the National Registery of Historic Places (1980) and is an industrial park for industry, processing and extraction.  It also has 14 different structures.  I have included some photographs of the buildings in their present condition.)

Present Site Sign

Hill Building (main building next to US 78)

Breeze Way Entrance to the Plant

Open Building in back portion of property

Building K

Building J

Side View of multiple sections of old Continental Gin

Inner Core of the old facility with multiple buildings

Building F next to Parking Lot
Sign directions to the 14 different buildings

Front building and ramp from the Parking lot


In March 1942, Daddy married my mother, Beatrice Manasco .  Daddy was still working at Continental Gin.  He and Mother moved into a rented duplex house in Eastlake, near 77th Street and off of First Avenue, North.  Daddy was deferred by the military because his employment at Continental Gin was considered strategic to the war effort. 

Because Daddy was developing sinus problems working in the foundry, the company transferred him from the foundry building to the machine shop plant.  But before Daddy left the foundry, he cast in iron, a statue-- a nymph—the naked lady looking up toward heaven with hands and arms raised high.  To keep the statue from rusting, it was painted white.   The city of Birmingham, Alabama had its fifty-six foot cast-iron statue, Vulcan, and Cecil Kilgore had his twenty-six and half inch cast-iron statue, the naked lady.

As my daddy continued working and breathing the polluted air of Continental Gin and of  the city itself, his sinuses grew worse and worse.  His doctor advised him that in order to get better he must change settings.  That meant quitting his job at Continental Gin and leaving Birmingham to return to Nauvoo, Alabama.

Daddy did just that.  Mother and Daddy moved into a small four room house across the hollow from the place where he was reared.  It was in that small frame house that I was born in December 1944.  My mother still lives in that same house, although it has been renovated and some rooms have been added.  Because Daddy had returned to the farm, he was no longer in an occupation were he would be deferred from serving during the war.  He was drafted in 1945, soon after I was born.  World War II ended about the same time he completing his basic training.  Daddy was honorably discharged, not having to go over seas. 

The only token of Daddy’s life and work in the city before he was married, started a family, and served his country, is the white, little naked lady.  It is an example of 1940’s statuary, but it is more than that to me.  It is a special art piece that my daddy made. 

What has happened to the naked lady statue?  A few years ago, Daddy gave it to me.  I had planned to repair a missing hand and to make it look new with a fresh coat of white paint.  My efforts were not successful, so the statue went to the basement, hidden away.

Recently, I posted on our Kilgore Cousins blog about two clocks that were in the Kilgore family—a Little Ben clock owned by Daddy’s brother, Johnie Kilgore, and a Big Ben clock owned by Daddy’s sister, Sis Kilgore Romans.  In response to that post, my first cousin, Joe McKeever, e-mailed me about his remembrance of the naked lady statue in our home during his growing up years.  I wrote him back, telling him that the statue was in my possession and that I planned to refurbish it.  As a result of that exchange, I went to work a few weeks ago on the lady that adorned our living room during my childhood.  I now can say that little naked lady is restored to her former glory, all thirty-one pounds of her.  I share with you some photographs of her taken from various angles.

 




The statue was the object of laughter when we were children.   The statue was an object of embarrassment as a teenager.  The statue was an object to be forgotten as a young adult.  As a senior adult, the statue has become an object of value, not for its vintage artistic worth which I do appreciate, but simply because of who made it.  It now proudly serves as a doorstop in the den at our house.  My wife is trying to adjust….and I anticipate interesting reactions when the kids come home for Christmas! 

Johnny Kilgore 








2 comments:

  1. What a great story! Thanks for sharing more family history, Johnny.

    ReplyDelete
  2. I love that story, Johnny!

    ReplyDelete