Today, February 27, 2014 marks the 148th anniversary of the birth of Hermon Atkins MacNeil, born this very day in 1866. So each February, we celebrate “MacNeil Month” in his honor.
In 2010, I formally began searching for “Uncle Hermon” in several ways. First, I built this “digital gallery” of his life and work as a sculptor. HermonAtkinsMacNeil.com is a website dedicated to making his sculpture and career available to the world.
In this virtual gallery you will find over 600 photos and 130 stories of Hermon MacNeil’s life and work. His statues of George Washington from Washington Arch, NYC; Ezra Cornell at Cornell University, William McKinley at Columbus, Ohio; Abraham Lincoln at Champaign, Illinois; Pony Express at St. Joseph, Missouri; Pere Marquette in Chicago; and monuments in Philadelphia, Charleston, Albany, and Flushing, and dozens of other cities can be studied here.
These sculptures, statues, monuments are scattered from Washington, DC to Portland, Oregon, and from New York City to Gallup, New Mexico. A web search of the name “Hermon MacNeil” can bring you here.
HOW DID YOU FIND the Hermon MacNeil website?
Please add comment below. Tell us what brings you here.
Secondly, this year I joined the Clan MacNeil Association of America. I did not know its existence until I saw the 1928 news story of the MacNeil plaque dedication in Red Springs. I have shared MacNeil stories at the annual family reunion of my siblings and our children and grand children. In August 2013 I attended the Longs Peak Scottish Irish Highland Fest in Estes Park. What a great celebration of Celtic pride.
Keep watching as I continue the search and research on Hermon Atkins MacNeil.
We celebrate “MacNeil Month” each February. This February 27, 2014 marks the 148th anniversary of the birth of our patron sculptor, Hermon Atkins MacNeil. During MacNeil Month 2014 here at HermonAtkinsMacNeil.com , we will share some biography of Hermon A. MacNeil gleaned from my “search for ‘Uncle Hermon’.”
Hermon Atkins MacNeil ~American Sculptor
MacNeil Clan history, like all family history, is filled with people we have never met. One MacNeil who has always fascinated me is Hermon Atkins MacNeil. Researching “Uncle” Hermon has also led me to another amazing man, Robert Lister MacNeil. Both men were present when the Clan MacNeil Association of America was formed ninety-three years ago.
On May 26, 1921, the Clan MacNeil Association of America was organized in New York City. Central to that moment were Robert Lister MacNeil, (The MacNeil of Barra – 45th Chief of the Clan), and Hermon Atkins MacNeil, a sculptor, who served as the clan’s first president. At that time, Robert Lister was 32 years of age, a practicing architect in New York City, and a veteran of the First World War. He had succeeded to the chiefship of the Clan MacNeil just six years earlier. His dreams of the Isle of Barra and restoring Kisimul Castle (as told in his book The Castle in the Sea) were but faint hopes that would await decades and the efforts of many MacNeils for their accomplishment.
His other kinsman was Hermon Atkins MacNeil. Hermon was the older of the two, an accomplished sculptor, also practicing in New York City, he had already created a myriad of statues, sculptures, monuments, as well as, the U.S. Standing Liberty Quarter first minted in 1916. Although these two MacNeils were 23 years apart in age, they were both trained in Paris at the Ecole des Beaux Arts, a school for architects and sculptors in the Classic Greco-Roman styles. A lasting bond between them formed through their shared artistic talents, professional skills, and years of Clan MacNeil activity.
Hermon MacNeil designed a bronze plaque that was unveiled and dedicated on May 28, 1928 on the campus of Flora MacDonald College in Red Springs, NC. The plaque commemorated the 1735 landing of Neil MacNeil of Jura, Scotland with 350 followers. This group made up mostly of clan members landed at the Cape Fear Settlement in North Carolina. The plaque was placed on a red granite stone and marked another clan project shared by these two men.
In his later years, Robert Lister stated: “Hermon was an outstanding sculptor and one of my dearest friends all the rest of his life.” In 1970, six years after publishing those words, Robert Lister MacNeil died at the age of 81. Twenty-three years earlier (in 1947), Hermon Atkins MacNeil had died, also at the same age of 81. All of the above was discovered as I “searched for Uncle Hermon.” I never met either of these two MacNeil men. The more I learn of them both, the more striking I find the parallels in their lives.
Upcoming: MacNeil Roots and Pursuits
Several sculptures of Hermon Atkins MacNeil are featured in a current exhibition at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City continuing through April 13, 2014. The show entitled “The American West in Bronze, 1850-1925” contains three parts: Indians, wild animals, and cowboys.
Three MacNeil works of early Native American images are visible online in an 8 photo slide show of the exhibit. They are apparently part of the “Indians” segment of the show. CLICK HERE for the link to this slide show. The MacNeil works include The Chief of the Multnomah (slide #3 in left background); The Moqui Runner (slide #6 foreground); The Sun Vow (slide #6 right rear).
The exhibit has received some criticism in a NY Times art review entitled “Manifest Destiny at the Point of a Gun” by Ken Johnson. The MacNeil pieces are specifically not mentioned in Johnson’s critique.
(More on Ken Johnson’s comments in the another article.)
“The American West in Bronze, 1850-1925” continues through April 13 at the Metropolitan Museum of Art; 212-535-7710, metmuseum.org.
Last summer I received an email from Linette Porter-Metler of the Mount Vernon and Knox County Library of Mount Vernon, Ohio. She enclosed the photos you see below.
Linette entitled her email, “DO WE HAVE ONE?” Here is what she said:
Thanks for your website!
We are a four-library public library system in Central Ohio. All year, we have been celebrating our 125th Anniversary here as a public library in Mount Vernon, Ohio, and during our research we found that one of our sculptures donated to us in 1936 by a Dr. Freeman Ward may be one of The Chief of the Multnomah statues shown on your site. But it does have some differences as you can see by the photo compared to the one on your site at the New York museum.
Ours does not seem to have a number stating it was one of the copies (i.e. 4/20)..All it has is his name, the word “Multnomah”, and the number “03” etched on the side of his footrest. I will send photos. Also, there is a copper? Twisted piece at top of bow near his shoulder.
I will enclose as many photos as I can. If you have any further information to share with us about this, we would appreciate it!
Linette Porter-Metler, Community Relations / Public Affairs, Public Library of Mount Vernon and Knox County, 201 N. Mulberry Street, Mount Vernon, OHIO
YES, MT. VERNON,
YOU HAVE ONE !
Christmas Greetings from the home of Hermon and Carol MacNeil.
Pictured below is a tinted postcard of their studio which ajoined their home on College Point. Beneath that you can see their actual 1922 Christmas card drawn by Hermon MacNeil for their friends. Married on Christmas Day in 1895, this is also Hermon and Carol’s 27th Wedding Anniversary. (CLICK for MORE)
Note how Hermon’s Christmas card sketch resembles his “Sun Vow” pair of Native Americans from a quarter century earlier.
from the MacNeil’s of College Point just 91 years ago.
Hermon Atkins MacNeil (1866-1947) – “Hopi” (Obverse) and “Prayer for Rain” (Reverse) Society of Medallists (SOM), Issue #3 of 1931, was based on MacNeil’s “Moqui (Hopi) Runner” statue of 1897. This was the only SOM issue that MacNeil would ever sculpt. Yet nearly fifty years later (1943), he vividly described these images of his 1895 travels to the Hopi (Moqui) Mesa in his Autobiographical Sketches.
MacNeil’s brief artists intro accompanying the medal is as follows:
“The two incidents of the Hopi Prayer for Rain on the mesas of northeastern Arizona depicted on this medal are chosen by your sculptor because of the extraordinary vital enthusiasm and power that the Indians throw into this ceremony. Having witnessed it and been thrilled by the intensity of their emotion and on further study by the complicated and perfectly natural development of this drama, I cannot help feel that in it we find a basic note underlying all religions. All these Southwest Indians, living as they do in an arid region, have developed their religion along the lines of their greatest need –water.”
In the documentation accompanying each medal, MacNeil offered the following additional narrative of his witnessing of this ritual nearly 36 years earlier while on his 1895 venture to the Southwest with Hamlin Garland and Charles F. Browne:
“This is one of their greatest and most important ceremonies. Occurring in August, it is filled with ritualism for nine days and in their kiva, an underground chamber, they have ceremonies with these snakes that have been gathered by the antelope and snake clans of their tribe for six days, from the north, east, south and west, also from above and below, therefore from all the directions of the universe. These snakes, so far as our best authority goes, although a portion of them are poisonous varieties, are not tampered with but are handled freely by the Indians, both during their underground ceremonies, and later on the last day above ground, in their public ceremony. During the last day ceremony they dance two and two, one with the snakes in his mouth, sometimes two at a time, while the other, accompanying him, wards off the head of the snake from the face of his companion with an eagle feather. It will be remembered that the eagle preys on the snake in nature and the smell of the eagle feather is supposed to frighten the snake with the intention of preventing him from biting. This ceremony was so intense and apparently so vital to them that although I myself saw two Indians bitten, they seem to be so completely under the control of the spirit that although I watched for further developments, yet there seemed to be no swelling or poisonous effects from the bites.
Even though the dancing takes place after the participants have taken hardly any food during the nine days, yet immediately after the public ceremony, which is performed in a circular action around the sacred stone on the mesa at Waslpi, they each take an emetic. After circling twice around the sacred rock, the one bearing snakes in his mouth emits them and a third follower immediately grabs the snake from the ground and carries it back to a little improvised enclosure of cottonwood boughs. After all the snakes have been used on this manner each Indian grabs into the bunch and with his hands filled with the snakes, each one starts running down the trail off the mesa onto the plains as shown on the reverse side of the medal and figuratively deposits the snakes again in their underground abodes.
Behind the heads of the dancers on the obverse is shown the sand picture drawn by the Indians themselves with colored earths on the floor of their kiva or underground chamber, about which they performed sacred ceremonials previous to the public dance. On this side of the medal the attempt is also made to show the apparent basic reason for the use of the snake in this prayer for water. This reason or theory seems to have evolved from the similarity in action between the snake on the earth and the lightning in the sky. The Indian, however, has evolved the theory of a kind of cousinship through these angular moving reptiles with the still more angular movement of the lightning to jar the rain clouds for rain, thus making their chief need their strongest prayer. Curiously enough, although there had been no sign of rain for weeks, the day following the remarkable ceremony, a little cloud appeared in the sky and the next day it rained copiously.”
[ SOURCE: Society of Medalists documentation accompanying the medals; reproduced at “Medals4Trade” ]
In August of 1929, Hermon Atkins MacNeil sent a painting to my mother, Ollie Francis McNeil, as a wedding present. Mother always referred to him as her “Uncle Hermon.” Painted on an thin (acid-based) cardboard, the piece has aged badly in the eighty-eight years since MacNeil sketched and painted it in 1925. Here is how it looked in 2010 before continual flaking and deterioration stressed it even further.
In August 2013, I received an enquiry on this website from an art restorer, Leslie Goodwin, in Colorado. She had been asked by a client to evaluate another painting by MacNeil. I offered her what information I knew about Uncle Hermon’s occasional ‘dabbling in oils.’
Later, I sent the photo (at right) of the painting to Leslie. She thought she could help to preserve this piece. I began making arrangements to mail it to her. After receiving her address, I determined that I had travel plans that would take me within 20 miles of her studio. Coincidence?
Several weeks later, I delivered the painting, personally, to Leslie Goodwin in Colorado. She was able to carefully examine the fragile conditions of our MacNeil heirloom, firsthand.
Leslie explained the risks and uncertainties of working with old art. She saw the necessity of stopping the rapid deterioration that recent years were adding to the ageing piece. She suggested that cleaning, stabilization, and repainting of broken areas could refresh the piece. We both agreed that without professional TLC this MacNeil oil painting would not see a 2nd century of life.
So, carefully, she began the preservation process. Two days later she called to say she was finished. She was also pleased with the results. Pictured BELOW is the resurrected look of Ollie Francis MacNeil Leininger’s wedding present from her “Uncle Hermon.”
As I saw the results of Leslie’s work, I felt that I was seeing Mother’ s wedding present as she first saw it in 1929. The repairs to lost portions of the sky brought the scene back together. The cleaning of the landscape brought out hidden colors that I did not see before. A vibrant freshness came out of the strokes of paint. It looked as though Uncle Hermon ‘sculpted’ in paints with a sculptor’s knife rather than an artist’s brush. And of course, that familiar signature, “H. A. MacNeil,” now jumped out of the corner with new boldness. “ I think even Ollie would be proud!
While the painting has some limited value, the real heirloom significance resides in the pencilled message on the back. Hermon MacNeil’s handwritten note on the back of his landscape painting says, “Landscape sketch by H. A. MacNeil presented to Ollie Francis MacNeil as a wedding present by her uncle. H. A. MacNeil ~~ 1929″
That note confirmed several things for me!
- Not only did mother address Hermon as “Uncle,” he considered himself to be just that to his cousin’s, (Tom McNeil’s) daughters.
- Hermon was aware of mother’s wedding, and wanted to send a gift.
- Hermon sent a gift made by his own hands.
- Hermon personalized that gift with a handwritten note that included his signature – twice!
- In addition, the timing of Hermon’s gift and note to Ollie McNeil was about 17 months after the prolonged death of Hermon’s and Carol’s only daughter, Joie Katherine MacNeil, in March 1928. Joie, age seventeen, died in Flushing Hospital of an infection which had been slowly draining her health since an attack of scarlet fever several years previously. She convalesced in the MacNeil home on Fifth Avenue (North boulevard), College Point. My mother, Ollie McNeil, would have been about 2 years older than Joie MacNeil.
- It also came 3 months after the marriage of their son Alden B. MacNeil to Irene E. Hollo on May 25, 1929. Those nuptials were held while Hermon and Carol MacNeil were abroad in Italy and Paris from November 1928 to September 1929.
In 1917 when Hermon MacNeil made the standing sculpture of Ezra Cornell, he placed a “machine” behind The man who made Cornell University. While MacNeil never knew Ezra Cornell, he did know Robert Thurston. Both Thurston and Cornell were men of machines. This third and final segment of the MacNeil ~ Thurston Story offers more on the brilliant engineer’s influence on the brilliant sculptor. Their individual creativity became a meeting ground of mechanical vision and artistic vision, foundational to Sibley College, and eventually, Cornell University College of Engineering.
Francis C. Moon in his 2007 volume on The Machines of Leonardo Da Vinci and Franz Reuleaux tells his story this way, combining three elements:
“Thurston – MacNeil – and Machines”
For Hermon MacNeil to come to Cornell as a young 20 year old artist was a serendipitous opportunity. For him to work directly with this mechanical engineer and seasoned educator, Robert Thurston, and to teach Thurston’s engineering students drawing and design was a melding of “The Two Cultures” ** of science and humanities. Thurston wanted to educate engineers who could draw, who could solve problems, and had an artist’s eye for detail and design.
** [The Two Cultures is the title of an influential 1959 Rede Lecture by British scientist and novelist C. P. Snow. Its thesis was that "the intellectual life of the whole of western society" was split into the titular two cultures — namely the sciences and the humanities — and that this was a major hindrance to solving the world's problems. ]
In MacNeil, Thurston found the artist/sculptor that he wanted. His encouragement of the ‘sculptor’ in MacNeil led Hermon on to Paris, Chicago, Rome and eventually, New York City. but he kept returning to Cornell. In 1893 he make the bust of Justice Douglas Boardman. After Thurston’s death, he made the bronze bas-relief honoring the Dean. In 1917-18 MacNeil returned to make to the statue of Ezra Cornell. And after MacNeil’s own death in 1947, his personal papers were placed in the Cornell Universiry Library at his bequest. Robert Thurston appears to be the encourager and instigator of that loyalty. It seems that MacNeil never forgot Cornell.
Thurston achieved his mastery of steam engine technology early in life by working in the machine shop at his father’s steam engine manufacturing company in Providence, Rhode Island. He later volunteered to serve in the Navy Engineering Corps during the Civil War and afterwards taught at the US Naval Academy at Annapolis. Writing 21 books and 574 scientific articles, he spanned a prolific career first as President of Stevens Institute of Technology for 14 years, and later as director of Sibley College, Cornell University for 18 more years.
Professor Robert Thurston became a recognized expert on the “steam engine,” the primary ‘work horse’ of the 19th and early 20th centuries. He wrote dozens of monographs on the subject. His visionary approach to engineering education brought Cornell to the forefront of the field. The choice of young Hermon Atkins MacNeil, a trained artist and ‘soon-to-be’ sculptor, brought an artist’s eye to Thurston’s vision for Cornell’s scientifically trained engineering graduates. That vision has now shaped the “growth” of Cornell, engineering education, and the A.S.M.E. for 125 years. Steam engines, telegraphs, and even engineering schools, can all be coinsidered “great inventions.” Here is what Thurston had to say about the “growth” of such great discoveries:
“Great inventions are never, and great discoveries are seldom, the work of any one mind. Every great invention is really an aggregation of minor inventions, or the final step of a progression. It is not usually a creation, but a growth, as truly so as is the growth of the trees in the forest.” — Robert H. Thurston[In 'The Growth of the Steam-Engine', The Popular Science Monthly (Nov 1877), 17 ]