16 February 2021

The Urchins' Band, Then and Now

Of the many bronze figures that inhabited the Hillsborough, New Jersey estate of tobacco mogul James B. Duke in the last century, the grouping of the barefooted boy musicians has always been one of the most beloved. 

The Urchins' Band, Duke's Park, circa 1905

Not only were the bronze figures well-loved, but also much photographed. Images of the boys appeared in no fewer than eight separate postcard series between 1905 and 1920.

The Gypsy Band, Duke's Park, circa 1905

The musicians have gone by several different names over the years - the Gypsy Band, the Brownie Band, even the Wandering Minstrels. But we know from correspondence between Duke and Italian fabricator Sabatino de Angelis & Fils that the figures were originally called "Urchin Band of Musicians".

The Urchins' Band, Duke's Park, circa 1910

Sabatino de Angelis was responsible for many of the bronzes at Duke's Park, notably the Thorn Puller, and the Farnese Bull.

The Urchins' Band, Duke's Park, circa 1910

The boys with their makeshift instruments were originally placed in what was called the Coach House Woods. This was a wooded area near the Coach Barn and Stables that no longer exists. In the first four postcards above we can observe what was likely their original configuration.

The Wandering Minstrels, Duke's Park, circa 1912

In the postcard above and the two below, we observe that the orientation has changed somewhat.

The Brownie Band, Duke's Park, circa 1915

The Brownie Band, Duke's Park, circa 1915

And finally, in the last historic postcard below we see that the statues have been moved once again.

The Brownie Band, Duke's Park, circa 1915

In the years after Doris Duke inherited the estate, she moved the Urchins' Band one final time to an island in a lake near her residence. This area of the estate has only been open to the public again in the last couple of years. Unfortunately, the passage of time has not been kind to the urchins as you can see in the photo below.

The Urchins' Band, Duke Farms, 2018

1 comment: