Mystery sculpture found at Brooklyn construction site

A nude sculpture of an unknown female figure has been unearthed at a construction site under the shadow of the Brooklyn Bridge. Construction workers first encountered her last year while clearing the site and archaeological consultants Historical Perspectives, Inc. were hired to excavate the statue before construction began. Excavating machines had damaged the face and body before workers realized she was there.

The neighborhood is today known as DUMBO (Jane’s Carousel is just a few blocks north of the construction site) and is primarily residential, but beginning in the 19th century it was a major manufacturing center. Its warehouses and factories, now converted into a plethora of gentrified lofts, are the result of a dramatic increase in industrial production in Brooklyn between 1890 and 1920. According to Census records, Brooklyn went from having 1,032 factories with 12,758 employees in 1860 to 10,713 factories employing 100,881 workers in 1900. By 1913, 30% of the borough’s manufacturing large firms were centered in DUMBO.

The construction site where the statue was found was most recently a parking lot but in Brooklyn’s manufacturing heyday there were spice warehouses in the area around the corner of Dock Street and Front Street. Inspired by that spicy history, archaeologists named the armless and legless stone lady Ginger. They don’t know that she dates to that period, or any other for that matter. She was discovered amidst mid-20th century demolition debris churned up during previous construction, so it’s not possible to analyze archaeological strata. Pottery sherds and foundation stones from the 18th century were also discovered in the debris.

With no specifics to go on, Ginger’s voluptuous nakedness has inspired speculation that she may have been a 3D brothel advertisement. Other possible roles that have been suggested include garden ornament or ship’s ballast, or she may have been simply a work of art produced by a local sculptor, but the truth is nobody has any idea who made her, why and when.

According to art experts, her maker probably did not receive a formal education in sculpture. She’s rough-hewn in parts, but there’s some great detail, like the texture in the hair.

“The chisel marks seem quite refined,” Carl F. Hammer, a Chicago dealer in outsider art, said in an e-mail after analyzing photos of Ginger.

Most of her 400 pounds are bare rock now, but there are flakes of blue-green paint on her hair that suggest she once sported a polychrome look. Those paint flecks are our best chance of determining her age and anything else about her history. They will be analyzed in a lab this spring.

Until more is known, the construction company, Two Trees Management Company (founded by David Walentas, husband of the Jane in Jane’s Carousel), is keeping Ginger on display in their office where she is roundly beloved.

Construction continues on the site. It is scheduled to be a mixed-use development with 300 rental apartments in a LEED-certified building, a public middle school, parking for Brooklyn Bridge Park and retail businesses.