Anyone driving or walking through New Rochelle's downtown is bound to pass a decorated Fleur-de-Lis at a major intersection. There are two near the Post Office at Huguenot and North Avenues. The city of New Rochelle paid to have selected artists paint the five foot fiberglass Fleur-de-Lis sculptures. Fifteen artists were each paid $300 to paint these reminders of the city's French heritage.
The New Rochelle Downtown Business Improvement District (BID) and Ralph DiBart had worked with the city and the New Rochelle Council of the Arts to bring this project to fruition. These Fleur-de-Lis sculptures are another highlight of the city's increased art presence in art galleries, public arts and artist studies. Looking back into New Rochelle's history artists found New Rochelle a place to live and work. Norman Rockwell lived and worked here and and Paul Terry's Terrytoons which created Mighty Mouse had an office in downtown New Rochelle. .
The bases of these fiberglass Fleur-de-Lis forms were donated by Grasso Brothers General Contracting Inc. The fifteen artists selected were: Juliano Delgado, Melissa Calderon, Janet Rutkowski, Team Think Fabricate, Alvin Clayton, Jesse Sanchez, David Bush, Aston LeMelle-Thomas, Susan Doban, Nico "Malo" Amortegui, Michael Cuomo, Jason Gorsline, Den and Nicholas Sienty, Patrick "Bancel and Rebecca Mills. Currently the BID has printed a flier with pictures and locations of the 15 Fleur-de-Lis in the downtown New Rochelle area.
The City of New Rochelle recently celebrated that 325 years ago the French Huguenots settled in the area (in 1688) . Coming from La Rochelle, France, these Huguenots sought religious freedom in a new land. Because the French were not common in this area, New Rochelle's French roots were unique. These settlers brought their customs and tolerant ways to the area. Many of them were artisans and craftsmen from La Rochelle.
The French heritage of New Rochelle is unmistakable when the Fleur-de-Lis symbol is displayed. The highly visible sculptures reinforce the continuous and consistent use of this symbol by the city. They also adorn the city's flag, seal and front doors of New Rochelle's City Hall. The New Rochelle Board of Education has placed a Fleur-de-Lis design on the top of agenda notices.
The name Fleur-de-Lis can be translated as "flower of the lily." It has no single meaning but according to some sources it was a symbol of perfection, especially with reference to French royalty. Either King Louis VI or VII had decorated their shield with the Fleur-de-Lis. but English Kings used this symbol on their armor to demonstrate their claims to the French throne. Eventually, by the fourteenth century the Fleur-de-Lis was embedded into the Kings' coat which was worn over their armor.
Among the noteworthy past uses of the Fleur-de-Lis include being on Joan of Arc's banner. God is blessing this Fleur-de-Lis which was the French royal emblem. Even in the United States this symbol has been used by some units of the Army to show power and strength.
The displays of these Fleur-de-Lis' in downtown New Rochelle should transmit to every resident that the city has a unique and proud history.
This article originally appeared in the November 6, 2014 issue of Westchester Guardian