Originally published Aug. 10, 2006.
For 75 years, “Dawn” has presided over the lobby of the Hotel Phillips.
Downtown travelers and workers know her as a fairy-tale figure, so they may not have given much thought to the statue’s human inspiration.
That’s just dandy for Virginia Raupp of Lee’s Summit, who was a 15-year-old East High School student when she modeled for Dawn.
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“People won’t believe it’s me; where is that cute girl that did that?” Raupp said recently as she gazed up at the statue in wonder from the hotel’s marbled lobby. “I thought it probably would have fallen on its face by now.”
Raupp — who turned 91 on Wednesday — remembers some of the events surrounding her one stint as a model, but 75 years tends to take away some details.
It was 1929 and the Hotel Phillips was on the drawing board. Raupp’s girlfriend’s father was connected to the new hotel and he suggested his daughter serve as the model for Dawn. Raupp tagged along for the audition and when the Norwegian-born sculptor, Jorgen C. Dreyer, got a glimpse of Raupp, a championship swimmer and diver, he preferred her figure over her friend’s.
Raupp doesn’t recall if that strained the friendship, but she does remember being in awe of the 50-year-old Dreyer, whom she considered “ancient.”
She posed five or six times from 1929 to 1930, most likely in his small home studio. Her mother came along as a chaperone and insisted Raupp wear a bathing suit. Dreyer later hired an acrobat to pose naked for the torso.
“My mother wouldn’t let me pose topless; she was very, very tight about that, “ she said.
But Dawn is Raupp from her shapely swimmer’s gams to her bobbed haircut. The artist added a superhero belt with drapery for discretion and a coronet of ginkgo leaves for Dawn’s head.
Sometimes dubbed the Golden Lady, the winged bronze sculpture was a transitional style between art nouveau and art deco.
Dreyer, who also created the lionesses in front of the Kansas City Life Insurance building at Armour Boulevard and Broadway, received the Dawn commission too late for the statue to be present at the hotel’s opening ceremonies in 1931. But countless guests have since passed under her wings.
“People don’t see it until they check in and turn around, “ said Blaine Proctor, spokesman for the hotel at 106 W. 12th St. “She’s like our mascot. Some see her as the goddess of hospitality. She inspires them.”
Raupp went on to graduate from Kansas City Junior College and then spent 15 years as a bond officer at City National Bank, now UMB, before becoming a full-time homemaker.
Her son, Michael Raynor, 64, of Lee’s Summit, first saw the golden figure as a 4-year-old. His aunt took him to have lunch with his mother at Wolferman’s and then stopped by the hotel.
Dawn is poised on the crest of a curling wave podium between a divided staircase connecting the lobby with the mezzanine.
“It was like, ‘Wow, that’s my mom, ’ “ said Raynor, who is Raupp’s son from her first marriage. “I was impressed because the face looked so much like her.”
Raynor was having dinner at the hotel recently when he told his friend that they should go up and visit “mother.” A waitress asked if his mother was staying at the hotel.
“Yes, permanently, “ Raynor quipped.
To reach Joyce Smith, call (816) 234-4692 or send e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org.