looking back

‘Looking Back’: The Cider Press

By Kinen Carvala

How did a statue “that may be too strong for the prudes” wind up in Golden Gate Park? Here is the story of The Cider Press statue across from the de Young Museum in Golden Gate Park.

Chicago hosted the World’s Fair in 1893. Michael Henry de Young, owner of The Chronicle newspaper, and James D. Phelan, real estate mogul, and banker, were part of a commission to represent California at the fair. The two men were inspired to have a California Midwinter Exposition the following year in San Francisco, in 1894. 

The Mechanics Institute held earlier fairs in San Francisco in 1869 and 1871 with a smaller turnout, compared to the Midwinter Exposition. About 500,000 people attended the 1871 fair, according to Taryn Edwards writing in The Argonaut in summer 2019. Approximately 2.5 million attended the Midwinter Exposition, according to Barbara Berglund on FoundSF.

“Parisian art circles were surprised” to see Thomas Shields Clarke’s Cider Press, double-life size and not yet cast in bronze sculpture, according to The Illustrated American in August 1892. He was only known as an oil painter. 

The Cider Press was also exhibited in Spain, and Clarke was the only foreign sculptor to receive a medal in person from the king, according to Godey’s Magazine in May 1885. Clarke also went to Chicago to exhibit his Cider Press sculpture. 

“The design is the nude figure of a man working at a cider press while a boy is sucking the cider through a straw. The idea is one which is rather trivial for a group of such dimensions,” wrote a critic from the Chicago Tribune.

The Cider Press statue by artist Thomas Shields Clarke is located in Golden Gate Park’s Music Concourse, across from the de Young Museum. Photos by Michael Durand.

Though a writer in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette on Jan. 23, 1893, thought the piece should be in a Pittsburgh park, he acknowledged “works of this sort usually go to the highest bidder.” The piece was still available for the San Francisco Midwinter Exposition the following year when it was purchased and presented by the fair’s executive committee.

Clarke was born in 1860 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. He studied in the École des Beaux-Arts in Paris and was also a member of the Royal Society of Art in London. His works have been featured in exhibits around the world, according to the National Park Service. He married Adelaide Knox in 1887; the couple had three children. He died at age 60 in 1920.

There are inscriptions on multiple parts of the Cider Press monument in Golden Gate Park: A plaque on the northwest side of the base: “Presented By The Executive Committee of the California Midwinter International Exposition 1894.” On the northeast side: “Tho’s Shields Clarke Paris 92”

On the southwest side: “Jabœuf & Bezout Fondeurs à Paris.”

The boy mentioned by the Chicago Tribune is crouching at the south end of the monument, but the straw is missing now. Apples are also on the base of the statue.

The Cider Press statue with a boy kneeling at its base. The original design had the boy using a straw to appear to be drinking the fresh apple juice that was dripping out of the press.

John A. Stanton, a painter and the director of art at the Midwinter Fair, considered the Cider Press to be the best and most artistic exhibited sculpture.

“It may be too realistic and bold in composition, too naked and rugged, to appeal to the milk and water ideas of the prudes of our community; but to an artist, a sculptor, or the amateur who appreciates art and knows something of it, it is welcome as a powerful, hearty conception,” Stanton said.

The Golden Gate Park Music Concourse was the fairgrounds for the Midwinter Exposition.

Because of California’s wine industry, the Cider Press has at times been misidentified as a wine press. The statue was originally a drinking fountain, with some stories of cider offered by the fountain instead of water. 

American colonists drank a lot of hard cider (i.e., alcoholic).

“Alice Morse Earle, in Customs and Fashions in Old New England, cites a town of 40 families that, in 1721, turned out 3,000 barrels of cider; and a Massachusetts survey of 1790 calculated that every citizen over 15 consumed an annual 34 gallons of beer and cider,” according to National Geographic’s The Highs and Lows of Hard Apple Cider History.

Although hard cider consumption decreased because of Prohibition from 1920 to 1933, cider sales have recently grown again, reaching $366 million in 2014, according to National Geographic. Raw squeezed cider becomes alcoholic if it is allowed to ferment. Stephen G. Martinelli, Jr., as a student at UC Berkeley in 1917, developed a pasteurization process to prevent apple juice from fermenting while being stored in glass bottles, according to the Martinelli’s website.

The Watsonville area in California used to be a prominent apple farming region with 14,000 acres growing apples in 1909. Apple production decreased in the area due to farmers switching to more profitable berries and Washington State growing more apples. All of Santa Cruz County, California, had just over 2,000 acres growing apples in 2013.

Martinelli’s buys about 95% of the apples grown in the Watsonville area, as of 2016, according to Marcus Michelson, Ross Courtney, and TJ Mullinax writing for Good Fruit Grower. Martinelli’s started making fermented hard apple cider in the Watsonville area in 1868, but the company switched to non-alcoholic cider due to Prohibition. 

The Cider Press is in the Music Concourse, across the street from the Pool of Enchantment at the east corner of the de Young Museum.

Find an archive of Kinen Carvala’s Looking Back columns at RichmondSunsetNews.com.

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