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Another View: Season of heroes: Maria Tallchief, Harriet Tubman honored

Dressing like one’s favorite caped or otherwise costumed Avenger, Justice League team member or other figure notable for superpowers for Halloween notwithstanding, recent weeks have spotlighted several superheros.

In October, the U.S. Mint issued a quarter honoring Maria Tallchief, the first American and first Native American prima ballerina.

This is the second coin to feature Tallchief, who also appears on a $1 coin as part of a group of Native American dancers collectively known as the “Five Moons,” ballerinas whose impact shaped American ballet.

According to the School of American Ballet website, the Five Moons are “Rosella Hightower of Choctaw heritage; Moscelyne Larkin, a member of the Shawnee-Peoria tribe; Yvonne Chouteau of Shawnee and Cherokee heritage; and sisters Marjorie and Maria Tallchief, members of the Osage Nation.”

The latest quarter displays Maria Tallchief in mid-leap, arms extended, above her name written in American English as well as Osage orthography.

In an interview with host Rachel Katz on the radio program “A Tempo with Rachel Katz,” Elise Paschen, Tallchief’s daughter, noted her mother was the first to dance many of ballet’s now iconic roles including the Firebird, the Black Swan and the Sugar Plum Fairy as imagined by choreographer George Balanchine when Tallchief danced with the New York City Ballet.

On Oct. 29, in ceremonies marking the debut of Tallchief’s quarter and a restored statue honoring Marjorie Tallchief, Misty Copeland, the first African American principal ballerina in the history of the American Ballet Theatre, spoke of the importance and of the sisters.

“I never imagined I would have any chance of being connected to Maria Tallchief,” Copeland said.

Quite a statement from someone who is a hero to many, yours truly included.

One day later, on Halloween eve, the city of Philadelphia and the Office of Arts, Culture and the Creative Economy announced Alvin Pettit as the winning artist to create Philadelphia’s permanent statue of Harriet Tubman, abolitionist, activist, former slave and conductor on the Underground Railroad, the under-the-radar network by which many Black slaves escaped to freedom.

“The statue will become the first statue of a Black female historical figure in the city’s public art collection and will be located on the northeast apron of city hall,” according to the caption of a photo of Pettit with his sculpture of the future statue on the OACCE website.

The finished statue will stand at the main entrance to Philadelphia’s city hall.

A field of five semifinalists faced selection by a mix of art experts and public comment in evaluation of their submissions. The finished statue is expected to be installed in 2025, according to a project timeline.

Pettit, a Maryland native, is the son of civil rights attorney and painter A. Dwight Pettit Sr.

Pettit’s statue of Tubman features her, hands clasped together, in motion as she marches forward and up an incline, broken shackles of slavery and other debris of oppression beneath her feet, her coat flying behind her like a cape.

In a short documentary bonus on the DVD release of “Harriet,” the 2020 movie about Tubman and starring Grammy and Tony winner Cynthia Erivo as the title character, Kasi Lemmons, the film’s director, describes Tubman as physically small but “so fierce and strong.”

“I am inspired by Harriet,” actor, singer, activist Janelle Monae, who also appears in the film, said of Tubman. “She’s an American hero.”

Tallchief’s quarter is the latest in the American Women Quarters program, an initiative celebrating the contributions and accomplishments of American women. So far, it includes poet Maya Angelou, physicist and astronaut Sally Ride, voting activist and educator Nina Otero-Warren, actor and Hollywood film star Anna May Wong, composer and language and culture preservationist Edith Kanaka’ole, journalist and activist Jovita Idar, political leader and First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt, first African American and first Native American woman licensed pilot Bessie Coleman and first woman elected principal chief of the Cherokee Nation Wilma Mankiller.

Tubman is expected to become the first woman on the $20 bill near the start of the next decade.

As you make plans to take in “The Marvels,” the latest theatrical release in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, which opened Nov. 10 and features three superlatively powered women, consider the real-life heroes who came before and those at work now in our communities and lives.

And, please, pass the popcorn.

April Peterson

editorial assistant

East Penn Press

Salisbury Press