Lady of the Lake

A childhood photo, date unknown, of Echo Park resident Shirley Sousa posing before the Lady of Lake

A childhood photo, date unknown, of Echo Park resident Shirley Sousa posing before the Lady of Lake

One of Echo Park’s most beloved icons is the statue of a female figure standing near the eastern edge of Echo Park Lake.

Sculpted in the Art Deco style by artist Ada Mae Sharpless, the statue’s official name is “Nuestra Reina de Los Angeles” (Queen of the Angels). But most people refer to the statue as the “Lady of the Lake.”

Sharpless was awarded this art commission by the federal Works Progress Administration in 1934, a Depression-era program that commissioned works of public art. Originally intended to be cast in bronze, the 14-foot-high cast stone statue was given as a gift to the city of Los Angeles in 1935. Sharpless’ work can also be found at General Hospital (L.A. County-USC Medical Center) and at the Bowers Museum in Santa Ana.

Los Angeles Times art critic Arthur Millier reviewed the Lady of the Lake when the statue [most likely a small replica] was the centerpiece of a small exhibit at the Art Salon at the Ebell Club in 1935. Millier wrote, “It is not her happiest work. Simplicity on such a scale demands a compensating subtlety which is absent.”

In response, the Los Angeles Times quoted Sharpless in a letter stating that the Lady of the Lake was “one of the best pieces of work I have done so far…and several people of the most sophisticated artistic taste in the city [agree]. Forget what is being represented—this has nothing to do with whether the sculpture is good or not.”

Ada May Sharpless was born to Mr. & Mrs. B.H. Sharpless on August 16, 1904 in Hilo, Hawaii. She grew up in Santa Ana, California. Sharpless graduated from the University of Southern California in 1922. She attended Otis Art Institute (dates unknown) and possibly the Chouinard Institute in Los Angeles. In 1925, she moved to Paris to study with Emile Antoine Bourdelle. While in Paris, Sharpless maintained a studio on Rue Boissonnade and exhibited at the Tuilleries and the Salon des Independents, where she was a member. She returned to Los Angeles in 1929, the same year as Bourdelle’s death.

Upon her return to California, she became a member of the California Art Club and the Los Angeles Art Association. According to California Art Club Bulletins, she had been a member before moving to Paris. Sharpless lived at 1142 ½ Seward Street, and exhibited at many local museums and galleries.

One of the four relief images at the statue's base.

One of the four relief images at the statue’s base.

Although unconfirmed, it has been stated that she married Norman Cornish and returned to Hawaii.

lakereturns_lady01tAbout 50 years Sharpless’ Lady of the Lake was dedicated, the statue, damaged and suffering from neglect was removed from public display in 1986 and put in storage, where it languished until it was restored and returned to public view in May 1999. It was rededicated on Oct. 10, 1999.

The statue was originally located at the tip of the peninsula that juts into the north end of the lake (now the site of pumping station). The Lady of the Lake now stands on the eastside of the lake near the Boathouse.

The pedestal of the Lady of the Lake features four reliefs with images of City Hall and other area features.

*Some of the information in this article is based on research commissioned by the City of Los Angeles’ Cultural Affairs Department.