Sunday, June 24, 2007

Mrs. Wallace Stevens Was No "Paper Woman"

"Are you really fond of books -- paper valleys and far countries, paper gardens, paper men and paper women? They are all I have, except you; and I live with them constantly."

The American poet Wallace Stevens (1879-1955) asked this question to Elsie Viola Kachel, the pretty girl he was courting, in a 1904 letter. Perhaps Elsie wasn't sure of her answer or of just how fulfilling a life would be with such a withdrawn fellow. At any rate, it took another 5 years before they married.

Certainly Elsie was considered a catch and she was a striking beauty. Indeed, a few years after their marriage, the Stevens rented a New York City apartment from Adolph A. Weinman. The German-born sculptor, who had often used the famous model Audrey Munson in his work, was fascinated by Elsie's refined allure and he made a bust of Elsie. Later on, it was Elsie's graceful profile that he used on the Mercury dime design and, probably, as the model for the Walking Liberty Half Dollar.

Far from being a "paper woman," Elsie Stevens was destined to be memorialized in precious metals treasured by all Americans.