Tuesday, May 31, 2011

The Kanawha Madonna

On Sunday (May 29th, 2011), I had a rare opportunity...a Sunday off and a three-day weekend!  We took advantage of the extra day off to do something that I had been putting off for quite awhile.  I fondly remember yearly school trips to the State Museum and Cultural Center, but hadn't been for a visit since they did a huge remodel the museum.  It was a perfect day to bring my own son, Luke, to the museum, and spend some quality time with him and Aaron.  We even caught a little bit of the 2011 Vandalia Festival that was wrapping up that day.

Luke was surprisingly well behaved  and interested in the displays.  He exhibited a particular fondness for the stoneware jugs of various time periods, and the trip through a "coal mine."  His little finger was pointing at everything, and he was jabbering on about a mile a minute at everything he could see.  Mommy and Aaron were impressed, too...but Mommy was particularly interested in the history behind the Kanawha Madonna.

The Kanawha Madonna is a nearly four foot tall carved wooden statue of a figure holding some type of 4-legged animal.  Carved from a honey locust tree, this odd piece was first discovered in 1897 by four teenage boys.  The statue was under a large flat stone, tucked safely away in a small cave on a cliff  near Chelyan.

Dr. John P. Hale, president of the WV Historical and Antiquarian Society, obtained the statue.  After visiting the cave, Dr. Hale presented a paper to the society concerning the statue.  It wasn't until 1964 that the first radiocarbon dating was performed on the piece.  The results showed the piece to be about 350 years old.  More modern testing put a time frame on the wood itself to be from about 1440 to 1600 A.D., but note that it could have been carved at any time after this date.

The exact date this figure was created is still a mystery, as is its intended purpose.  The statue sits on an 8inch base, that includes a hole that was believed to be where the statue would be mounted to a pole.  Also a mystery is the name "Kanawha Madonna."  No one knows where the name originated, and no one is claiming ownership of it.  Today, the statue is prominently displayed in the WV State Museum in Charleston, WV.

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