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William Beekman (b. 1949)

Object Name: Bust
Date: 2016
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Medium: Bronze with mixed media
Dimensions: Overall: 28 × 16 × 12 in. (71.1 × 40.6 × 30.5 cm)
Description: Portrait bust; plinth is composed of clamshell boxes to simulate three (3) books: Old New York/ Edith Wharton, Virginia Woolf and the Hogarth Press Black’s Law Dictionary.
Credit Line: Gift of the artist
Object Number: 2016.35
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This portrait bust of New-York Historical Society Honorary Trustee, William Beekman, is the work of the artist Helen Beekman, the sitter’s wife. She conceived this work as a tribute to her husband, a “man of gravitas,” celebrating his achievements as a prominent bibliophile, and a distinguished jurist. The artist also pays homage to him as a member of the Beekman family, one of New York’s oldest and most historically significant families, with strong ties to the New-York Historical Society, and roots dating back to seventeenth-century New Amsterdam.

Here William Beekman is doubly commemorated: first, through the creation of a bronze likeness and, second, in the design of a colorful plinth of books, each citing a specific publication referencing different aspects of his heritage, character, and vocation. The inclusion of the Edith Wharton title, Old New York signals the family’s legacy as descendants of James and Jane Keteltas Beekman, and the role that the family has continued to play in the fabric of New York society. Virginia Woolf and the Hogarth Press refers to William Beekman’s vast collection of Woolf manuscripts, which is widely recognized as the most important Woolf collection in New York. Finally, Black’s Law Dictionary honors Beekman’s legal career, recognizing his almost thirty-year service as partner at Debevoise & Plimpton, LLP.