The Statue of Liberty has taken over Nancy Sherman's home in Bay Shore.
Models and imagery of the statue in all shapes and sizes adorn tables, walls, shelves and countertops. They take up floor space in just about every room of the two-bedroom residence. Some are stuffed into drawers, others decorate the yard and fill the attic. The statue's influence even extends to Sherman's 26-foot sailboat, named Miss Liberty II.
Driven by a passion for "The Lady" -- that colossal icon of freedom in New York Harbor -- Sherman, 81, has amassed Liberty memorabilia since the 1980s. Her collection numbers more than 1,000 pieces, and she loves them all.
"It's very soothing having it around me," Sherman said of her mementos. But knowing that her two adult daughters would want to keep only a piece or two, she's hoping to find a museum or other repository that will accept her treasures and keep the collection together for public display, "a place where it will be appreciated," she said.
An art teacher with a master's degree who taught middle and high school students in Bay Shore before retiring in 1999, Sherman's obsession for the national monument was triggered by a project she designed for her classes in the 1980s. The 151-foot statue, which was undergoing extensive restoration at the time, was the theme. "We would create a Statue of Liberty," Sherman recalled. "My wish was to have the children explore different areas of art: papier-m-ché, print, sculpture, painting, drawing."
As the project progressed, Sherman encountered what she calls "interpretations" of the statue everywhere and, like many others who are fascinated by the copper-clad gift from France, she was enthralled.
"I began to notice eccentric, cool, Statue of Liberty ideas," Sherman said, "usually jewels or T-shirts, dinner sets, mugs, some with Statue of Liberty designs by artists Peter Max and Hudson Talbott. I really became intrigued when I saw all the cool stuff -- then my collecting really began."
The more enamored she became, the more she shared her love with others. "I bought Statue of Liberty flags for all the school buildings; plate sets for family members. I bought pins and gave them to everybody," she said, while her own stash grew exponentially. "It went from two [items] to three to 40, and I realized I had a collection," Sherman said. "It covered all kinds of categories: kitchen equipment, clothing, flags and banners, upholstered furniture, candlesticks. It covered all areas of life; there's no limit. It just goes on and on."
Many of her collectibles, which she describes as "interesting stuff that are conversation pieces," were bought as she drove cross-country in the early 1990s with Jenny Sherman, her older daughter, who is a paintings conservator for the Dunedin Public Art Gallery in New Zealand.
"She's had a wonderful time building her collection, learning more about the Statue itself and its history, and meeting people like herself who just love the Statue of Liberty," Jenny Sherman wrote in an email about her mother's treasures. Though she supports her mom's passion, she wrote, "I might enjoy having one or two items, but I don't have quite the enthusiasm for it all that she does!"
Sherman's younger daughter, Wendy Shutt, who owns a holistic healing center in Gisborne, New Zealand, also supports her mother's large assortment of statues and memorabilia. "I think it's great that Mom enjoys all aspects of [the] Statue of Liberty and its collection," she wrote in an email. "It connects her with like-minded people, brings her awareness to history of the statue and the country at that period of time and brings her joy in the pursuit of collectibles."
Not every model or trinket influenced by the statue makes the grade. It must appeal to Sherman's aesthetic to stay in her collection. "I just respond to it in some way," she said. The smallest model is less than a half-inch; the largest is a garden ornament, about 4 feet high, not including the pedestal she had made for it. There are posters, rugs, pillows, pens, pencils and jewelry. They've cost from 5 cents to $800. Prized is Sherman's green Statue of Liberty costume she wears "whenever I can."
While Sherman's enthusiasm is intense for all things related to Lady Liberty, she has many other interests. She's a member of the Hibernian Festival Singers, a 75-member choral ensemble that performs in the United States and abroad, and she hosts a monthly book club. Divorced, Sherman shares her home with her cat, Margot.
She also travels frequently and enjoys coming home to her assortment of souvenirs. Each piece is appreciated for its lighthearted approach or interpretation of the statue. "It's always been a source of great amusement," Sherman said, but just as essential to her is its serious side. "There's something about the Statue of Liberty that stays in people's mind," she said. "She's an important work of art to the world, an extremely interesting construction, beautifully envisioned."
Favorites in Sherman's collection include a copper weather vane; a seven-point crown she created in the bluestone paving, steps from her front door; a stained glass torch; and a tiny Miss Liberty made by Lego. The oldest piece is a mantel clock dating to the 1800s.
"I like to think each piece has some relationship to the real statue, even ones that are absolutely amusing," Sherman said. "But even if they're funny, I don't take it as a joke." Some of her collection has been displayed at the Bay Shore Library and in small group shows.
Sherman has found kindred spirits as a member of the international Statue of Liberty Club (statueoflibertyclub.com). Its 200 members are interested in the various art forms inspired by the monument and its detailed history, statistics, and trivia facts. Brian Snyder, vice president of the Statue of Liberty club, who lives in Fresno, California, said, "Most collectors of Statue of Liberty items, in any form, have a genuine interest as a symbol of America, freedom, opportunity, and what can be accomplished when others say it can't be done." Snyder said interest in the statue extends far beyond this country's borders.
Sherman's interest has taken her to the Lady Liberty about 10 times in the past 30 years. In 2005, she went to France and visited the Musee Bartholdi, a museum dedicated to French sculptor Auguste Bartholdi, the designer and maker of the Statue of Liberty.
"She's been an important image in my life," Sherman said. "It is partly patriotism. It's kind of a respect thing. I think we have a symbol that has a sense of humanity about it, and I realize how much interest she elicits from others, not only from myself. It's positive, it's uplifting, it's patriotic and it's fun. I've never lost interest."