JENNIFER STEWART is poised in front of the
bathroom mirror in her Brooklyn Heights apartment, primping and
preening for another day at the office.
The toilet seat cover looks like the cosmetic
counter at Bloomingdale's, filled with foundation, eyeliner,
powder and highlights. The only difference is everything is
"You look gorgeous," she tells her
reflection in the mirror.
Don't laugh ladles! Think it's not easy being
green? Think again.
When Ms. Stewart walks down the street with
that special copper glow of hers, men ask her out on dates.
Strange women kiss her cheeks. Children tug at her arms like
they're precious toys. And she's been known to stop traffic
medallion cabs included from South Street Seaport to Fifth
For the past ten years, Ms. Stewart, a former
arts teacher to the disabled, has been dressing up as Miss
Liberty and wowing tourists and hard-line New Yorkers alike with
an act dubbed; "Living Liberty." Not that there's much
Ms. Stewart didn't speak to the huddled
masses swarming at her feet until a few years ago. Before then,
she would just choose a heavily-traveled tourist spot, put down
a collection bucket, climb on her 12 inch pedestal and let the
crowds flock to her as if the mighty Statue itself had stepped
down from her pedestal to be among the people. Two years ago,
she began giving the crowds some history of the statue and how
she came to portray it.
Her appearance is so convincing that Ms.
Stewart seems to inspire genuine reverence. Just the other day,
an elderly woman who watched Ms. Stewart, done-up as Miss
Liberty, gracefully descend the steps of her apartment building,
rushed to her side and said breathlessly: "One of my most
wonderful memories was when my husband and I were on the QE2
coming back to New York from England and we saw you."
Of course, she was referring to the real
Statue, not Ms. Stewart, but it's one of the many peculiar
things that happens on a day in the life of this performance
"Do you mind if we take a picture with
you?" Melanie Denk and Anke Wagner, two teen-something
tourists from Germany, asked Ms. Stewart as she was removing her
props from a car parked outside the South Street Seaport.
"We'd be honored."
"Well, I'm not really set up," said Ms. Stewart.
"Can you wait five minutes?" Fifteen minutes
later they flanked Ms. Stewart and got their photos.
Give Me Your Face Powder, Your Eyeliner
This is how Jennifer Stewart, a
performance artist, transforms herself into Miss Liberty:
· She first applies her everyday
foundation and powder. Next, she applies sparkling copper
green eyeliner and mascara.
· With a paint brush, she then
applies patina Krylon paint starting with the arms, then the
upward strokes the
face and finally the eyelids. ("They require
concentration," she says.)
· Using a blow dryer, she dries the
· Then a Krylon fixer spray is
applied. (Once it dries and sets, it makes the application
· The finishing touch is a dusting
of dry patina face powder. All done up in 20 minutes!
Photographs by Andrea Mohin/The New York Times
everyone takes so kindly to a mere mortal passing herself
off as a cherished symbol of friendship, freedom and
hospitality. An elderly man once called her a fraud. An
English tourist accused her of begging. A homeless man
slapped her. A burly young man pinched her rear end. And a
little girl of about 3 once said she'd just gone to see
the "pretend one, but she didn't have a bucket of
money in front of her."
What's a nice girl from Audubon, Iowa,
doing parading around New York City like the Statue of
"It all started when one of my
former students who suffered from schizophrenia told me
that I looked like the Statue of Liberty," said Ms.
Stewart. "A few days later, I read that there was a
national Miss Liberty look-alike contest to celebrate the
centennial. I decided to enter."
She cobbled together a costume
skirt, shawl and baggy tank top from a double-knit
patina material, an old mop, plaster, paper towel rolls,
masking tape and glue. But constructing the crown proved
"It had to be sturdy and
removable," she remembers. "Nothing I
Frustrated, she decided to do a load of
laundry, and voila! The laundry basket!
"It was perfect for the
crown," she recalled, smiling at her stroke of
ingenuity. She won the contest in 1986 and thought it
would be the start of something big. But nothing
happened. "I figured I'd never put on the
costume again," she said.
But struggling to make ends meet, in
the "big city," Ms. Stewart resurrected Miss
Liberty for a Halloween contest and won the $1,000 first
prize. Other prized followed.
then, she was 30, going through a divorce and
re-evaluating her life. She dropped out of graduate
school and went to work full-time doing "Living
"Along with the street stuff, I do
private parties and trade shows," said Ms.
Stewart. But, now, Ms. Stewart has reached a
cross-roads in life. "I'm getting too old to
keep doing this," she said between huffs as she
lifted her gear into a cab. She works an average of
four hours a day, usually weekends. The dollars and
quarters she receives aren't enough to pay the rent, so
she has written a children's book and is working on a play
about liberty and freedom.
A part of her, however, is not yet
ready to let go of her alter ego. There are moments
when Ms. Stewart seems at one with the colossal statuary.
"She was a liberated woman before most of us
liberated women," she said. "I've tried to
embody, in my own personal life, what she stands
Indeed, when in costume, Ms. Stewart is
careful to conduct herself in the manner one expects of a
There she was last week, at the end of
a long, lunchless day, trying to hail a cab in front of
St. Patrick's Cathedral with people tugging at her shawl
sleeves begging for one last photograph. "I'm really
tired," she said to no avail.
From the crowds emerged two women with a
young boy in a wheelchair. Ms. Stewart kneeled down.
"How about a picture," she said. "What's
your name? Do you know who I am?"
The boy nodded.
"You look just like her," he
said in a slow Italian accent. "You're sooo beautiful."
Ms. Stewart smiled and caught the next
cab to Brooklyn.