Here at the HermonAtkinsMacNeil.com website we celebrate every February as
in honor of the birth of
Hermon Atkins MacNeil
February 27th, 1866.
This is the first of several postings that will celebrate this theme. Hermon’s older cousin, Tom Henry MacNeil (my grandfather), was born on February 29th, 1860. So February is MacNeil Month in several ways.
Here is a recent video of the Sun Vow to start off our month of celebration:
My recent post about our December 3rd journey on the CTA Blue Line train to the Chicago Loop and the Art Institute of Chicago ended with a discussion of “The Sun Vow” and my photo array taken in the Sculpture Court. [Searching for Uncle Hermon in Chicago ~ “The Sun Vow” ]
Another MacNeil piece just steps away in the adjoining American Gallery provides a “preface” to the story of “The Sun Vow”.
Modeled in 1894 that earlier piece was called “Vow of Vengeance.” It shows one of MacNeil’s early studies in Native American depiction. It followed his exposure to the Chicago World Fair, his fascination with sketching the Indians in Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show, and his modeling work with Black Pipe. (Black Pipe was a young Sioux who worked in Hermon’s studio and modeled for several pieces during 1893-94. He helped with physical labor in the studio as well. CLICK for MORE on Black Pipe and “Primitive Chant”)
Several pieces dated 1894 seemed to be early prototypes for later larger works and castings. The “Vow of Vengeance” appears to be one of the more prominent. I know of no other copies elsewhere.
A blog about the Art Institute observes some mingling of the identity of the two pieces:
The Vow of Vengeance -1894
By Hermon Atkins MacNeil.
What’s in a name?
Well, somehow I noticed a discrepancy in the name..
The Art Institute website calls it – The Vow of Vengeance 
But marker at the Art Institute has the name – The Sun Vow [Modeled-1898, Cast-1901]. http://theartinstituteofchicago.blogspot.com/2010_12_01_archive.html.
While the “Vow of Vengeance” and “The Sun Vow” contain similar elements, what they communicate seems quite different:
- TITLE: The two titles carry contrasting emotional messages. The first (Vow of Vengeance) conveys negative aggression and hostile feeling toward some enemy, while the second (Sun Vow) depicts a more positive rite of passage from boyhood to manhood within a setting of family and tribal affirmation.
- GROUPING: The boy and the Elder (Warrior, Chief) are grouped to convey different emotional tones in the two pieces. In “Vengeance,” the chief wears his war bonnet on his head. He is dressed to present tribal authority to the enemy. His face seems harsh and his posture stiff. The Boy strains his head high up into the air. Their grouping seems tense. In “Sun Vow” the two figures are closer and seem to be “more one.” The Chief has removed his bonnet so as to lean into the boy’s line of sight. The boy is also more grace-full. He looks to the arrow and the sun without straining. Both gaze in the seeming wonder and mystical pleasure of the physical rite.
1894 ~ Prototype Year:
In addition to the “Vow of Vengeance” we have found evidence of another prototype from 1894.
A previous posting tells James Dixon’s story of a MacNeil piece acquired by his Great-great grandmother, Edna Lord. The sculpture bears the title “Primitive Music” on its base. [ CLICK Here for more ]
Photos on that previous post suggest that Edna Lord’s “Primitive Indian Music” was an early prototype of the “Primitive Chant” (which was much more polished and finely surfaced)
It is also based on “Black Pipe”, the young Sioux Brave. MacNeil first saw Black Pipe at the Buffalo Bills Wild West Show and we know that he returned many times to study the Indians. Like MacNeil, I have return to this story of “Black Pipe”, the young Sioux Brave, numerous times, and perhaps, will return many more. ~~ DNL
Hermon MacNeil ~ After the World’s Columbian Exposition
The period after the end of the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair was a lean, even dry time, financially for Hermon MacNeil. We do know that he continued to maintain a studio, sculpt models, teach at the Art Institute of Chicago, and associate with art colleagues and benefactors there. Yet, it seems a productive time of transition, expression, and experimentation for the as the young sculptor.
Traveling to the Art Museum, we walked out of the underground on Dearborn Street just a block south of the Marquette Building which is home to Hermon MacNeil’s 1895 sculptures of 4 bronze relief panels [Cick Here]. This commission marked his recognition and selection for the award of the Rinehart Roman Scholarship. This began 3 years in Rome and another in Paris for he and his young bride, Carol Brooks. The bronze reliefs stands today as an icon to Marquette and his life among the Native peoples. The building has been restored by the MacArthur Foundation and now houses their international headquarters.
Those works tell the story Father Marquette explorations to Native peoples of Illinois. MacNeil would return to Chicago and the Marquette themes three decades later as he sculpted the bronze grouping [CLICK HERE] of Pere Marquette, Louis Jolliete, and an Illinois Indian on Marshall Boulevard. Commissioned by the Benjamin Franklin Ferguson Monument Fund, this sculpture has faced the greenway of the boulevard for 88 years.
I sit here in Chicago during this Christmas Season, imagining a Christmas wedding ceremony one hundred and nineteen years ago.
On Christmas Eve day in 1895, Hermon Atkins MacNeil and Carol Louise Brooks purchased a Cook County license to solemnize their marriage. The very next day, Christmas 1895, they shared their vows before God and a Congregational minister named, Edward F. Williams, here in Chicago. The record looks like this:
Both Hermon and Carol were sculptors. Hermon had completed 4 bronze relief sculpture panels for the new Marquette Building. They had fellow friends among the art community, sculptor colleagues from the Chicago World’s Fair, students and teachers from the Art Institute of Chicago, and “White Rabbits” team of women sculptors. We don’t have any record of who might have witnessed their nuptials.
But it was Christmas Day, a time when families gather. Hermon’s family was far away in Massachusetts. Carol’s was born in Chicago and studied there at the Art Institute with Lorado Taft working on the 1893 Worlds Fair with her “White Rabbit” colleagues. Perhaps some friends or family were present or even hosted some wedding celebration. Her parents were close enough to be present, but no evidence suggests that. It appears to have been a quick, quiet, modest ceremony. The less than a one-day turn around on their marriage license would support that. In addition, we know that they sailed a week later for Rome and Hermon’s Roman Reinhart Scholarship studies there. A December 22, 1895 – New York Sun, article (CLICK HERE) supports that as well as a letter from Amy Ardis Bradley [ CLICK for MORE ]
The officiating minister, Rev. Edward (Franklin) Williams appears to have been a prominent clergy described as “a Congregational minister, educator, field agent for the United States Christian Commission, missionary, and writer.” ( Source: Edward Franklin Williams papers, Amistad Research Center at Tulane University, New Orleans, Louisiana ) He wrote Carol’s name as “Carrie” in his handwritten certification on the bottom of the license. She went by ‘Carrie’ among her friends.
Whether Rev. Williams considered her a ‘friend’ we do not know. Philip Khopf, the Cook County clerk, wrote ‘Carol’ in the top portion of the certificate. Rev. Williams could have copied “Carol” from the official record above, but chose to use ‘Carrie’ instead. The license lists Carol as being 24 years of age and Hermon as 29. We know that the minister was 63 years of age when he led their ceremony. Until 1891 he was pastor of the South Congregational Church, in suburban Chicago. For health reasons he had “an extended stay abroad (June, 1891 to July, 1893), primarily in Germany, where he pursued studies in Berlin.” Returning to Chicago he studied and lectured at Chicago Theological Seminary during 1894.
Whether Rev. Williams had some previous knowledge with Carrie and Hermon or was a friend of the family, is uncertain. He seemed very connected to the Chicago community and many of the potential benefactors of the arts. At a minimum, his use of “Carrie” seems to indicate a ‘cordial’ style of ministry and interaction. It also seems consistent with his servant-attitude toward needs of the soldiers and wounded he encountered during the Civil War.
More biographical information on Rev. Williams is offered below.
Williams, Edward Franklin (1832-1919)
Historical Note: Edward Franklin Williams was a Congregational minister, educator, field agent for the United States Christian Commission, missionary, and writer. Edward Franklin Williams was born in Massachusetts in 1832, the son of Delilah Morse Williams and George Williams. Williams attended Yale University from 1852 to 1856, and he continued to earn an advanced degree from Yale. He later attended the Princeton Theological Seminary, where he graduated and earned his license to preach in 1861.Williams was exempt from the draft due to a tubercular condition in his lungs, and thus he did not fight in the Civil War. In April 1863, Williams received a commission as a field agent for the United States Christian Commission. With the Commission, he served two and a half years in the armies of the Potomac and the James.After the war, Williams was sent as principal to begin was became the Lookout Mountain Educational Institutions in Chattanooga, Tennessee. In 1867, Williams was appointed by the American Missionary Association to teach in the Normal and Preparatory Division of what was later Howard University. He left Howard to preach at several churches in Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, Illinois, and New York, ultimately serving as pastor of Tabernacle Church in Chicago and Forty-Seventh Street Congregational Church, which later became South Congregational Church, in suburban Chicago, where he served until 1891.By 1880, Williams was writing a monthly column for The Congregationalist under a pen name, “Franklin.” He continued writing for this publication until 1908. He continued as a prolific writer, particularly in the 1890s.
From 1901 to 1911 Williams served as pastor of the Evanston Ave. Congregational Church in Chicago. Williams died in 1919 in Chicago.[ Sources: Edward Franklin Williams papers, Amistad Research Center at Tulane University, New Orleans, Louisiana ]
On a cold December day we took the CTA Blue Line to Jackson street and walked out of the underground on Dearborn Street at the Federal Court Building. We were just a block south of the Marquette Building which is home to Hermon MacNeil’s 1895 sculptures of 4 bronze relief panels [Cick Here] that tell the story Father Marquette explorations to Native peoples of Illinois.
We walked past the Federal Courts, then turned east toward the Art Institute of Chicago.
There sculptor Edward Kemeys’ twin bronze Lions (Mr. Defiance and Mr. Prowl) greeted us at the entrance in their Holiday regalia. They have stood guard there since 1893 when Mrs. Henry Field commissioned them.
Above is “Mister ‘In-an-Attitude-of-Defiance’,” as he rests on a Christmas package that normally is his base. The mood was festive as sixty people smiled and waited on the steps (between Mr. Prowler and Mr. Defiance) until the Museum doors were opened at 10 am.
1) Prowler and Defiance, 2)Mrs. Henry Field, and 3) Hermon MacNeil are all contemporaries of the 1893-95 era of the Chicago World’s Fair (Worlds Columbian Exposition).
Once inside we spent the morning admiring early art of Dutch and French collections. Eventually, we came opon a fovorite, Jules Adolphe Breton’s The Song of the Lark, (1884).
After some lunch in the modern art area, we went to find MacNeil’s “Sun Vow”. Here are my results.
While I could go on-and-on about this most famous of Uncle Hermon’s works, I will let my photographs speak for themselves. Enjoy!
“The Sun Vow”, Hermon MacNeil’s earliest acclaimed work, was exhibited around the world and still can be visited in museums and galleries today. This old photo postcard was purchased recently by the editor.
“The Sun Vow” is pictured here in an early B&W Postcard by photographer Gabriel Moulin.
The likeness probably dates from the 1929 Exhibition of the National Sculpture Society at the newly completed California Palace of Legion of Honor, San Francisco.
The “Sun Vow” was also exhibited by MacNeil in the 1915 Panama-Pacific International Exposition in San Francisco, as well as, Exhibitions in Paris, Buffalo, and Saint Louis. The story of California Palace and its permanent reconstruction is an interesting one:
“The California Palace of the Legion of Honor originated as the French pavilion in San Francisco’s Panama-Pacific International Exposition of 1915. Alma de Bretteville Spreckels was so impressed with the pavilion that she offered to construct a permanent museum in its likeness, which was completed in 1924 and now stands as the Legion of Honor.”
Thus the 1929 exhibit gave birth to this historic photo by Moulin. An previous image of this postcard was posted several years ago on this website at [click here]
“Clan MacNeil Connections and Hermon Atkins MacNeil”
The current issue of the Clan MacNeil Association of America magazine has a feature story on Hermon Atkins MacNeil by webmaster, Dan Leininger
The Galley edited by Vicki Sanders Corporon titles Dan’s story as “Clan MacNeil Connections and Hermon Atkins MacNeil.” The feature and photos fill 8 pages in the “Galley” issue for Spring/Summer 2014.
The featured photos include the East Pediment of the Supreme Court Building in Washington, D.C. (with a detail close-up of Moses, Confucius, and Salon); The George Rogers Clark monument in Vincennes, IN at the site of his victory over the British in 1779; Confederate Defenders of Charleston, SC; the Young Lawyer Abraham Lincoln in Champaign, IL; General George Washington on the Washington Arch, NYC, NY. Also in this article are photos of the grouping Coming of the White Man in Portland, OR; The WWI Angel of Peace Monument in Flushing NY; and a bust of Dwight L. Moody (who MacNeil sketched during the 1893 Chicago Worlds Fair.
Another art work of Hermon A. MacNeil has emerged through the kindnesses of the Orr family and the attraction of this website — namely, a beautiful portrait bust of Hermon MacNeil’s physician, Dr. Francis G. Reilly.
Pat Orr send the information about his MacNeil painting of “Dave Blue” as presented in my previous posting. He was also kind enough to ask his brother, Tim Orr, to send some photos of another Hermon MacNeil creation that has been in their family (for almost) five generations.
Pat sent the following request to Tim:
Dan has a website dedicated to the life and works of his uncle H.A. MacNeil. I have the oil painting of Dave Blue Who Lived Under the Ground and you have the bronze bust of Daddy Boy (Grandma’s father, Dr. Francis Reilly). Could you email him some pics. See his directions below. He wants to add the discoveries of his uncle’s work to his website and possibly a book as well.
Tim sent several photos of the bust of “Daddy Boy,” as the family has called their heirloom piece. Enhanced profile and frontal views are posted here.
Pat also included some tidbits of family history he gathered in his “MacNeil detective work:’
I have a few more details of interesting information for you. I spoke with my mother and she said H A MacNeil was a neighbor of my great grandparents in the Catskills. They had a summer house there, and he had one down the road. Apparently, my great grandfather was his doctor. In fact, H A did a bronze bust of my great grandfather which my brother has now at his house. …
In terms of the home in upstate New York called “Bittersweet” I don’t know what happened to that. I imagine it was sold at some point along the way. That was way before my time. I was born in Washington, D.C. in 1970.
Did you ever meet your uncle, or you just know him by way of photographs?
Tim provided additional interesting family details not mentioned before:
As I understand the story, the bust was compensation to my GG (sic: great-grandfather) for medical services rendered…but that could just be a story. The medallion was either a gift or he may have purchased it, or could have been compensation also. As an aside, the vacation home in Liberty NY is now under water, a part of a reservoir network in that area I believe.
The idea of “compensation” (barter) makes sense in that era and in Hermon MacNeil’s history of doing that with Inn-keepers in his early years of travel in Italy and Paris .
Thanks to Pat and Tim Orr for sharing heir family history and treasures. They give us insight into Hermon A. MacNeil and their own family
WHO IS DAVE BLUE ?
Another mystery oil painting entitled “Dave Blue,” has surfaced through an inquiry on this website. The work is signed, “H. A. MacNeil SC” in two places.
Patrick Orr wrote from Connecticut,
“IS IT POSSIBLE THAT I HAVE A PAINTING BY H.A. MACNEIL?”
Patrick included several photos from which the detail at your right enlargement below were taken.
In our ongoing correspondence, I explained to Patrick the following:
A. MacNeil often placed the letters “SC” after his signature on works meaning “Sculptor.” This was his standard manner of signing his works. Interesting that he did so to an oil painting as well. See numerous examples on the masthead photos on my website.
B. MacNeil is known to have painted oils. Mostly for fun or gifts. My mother had an oil painting as a wedding gift that he gave her in 1929.
C. You have a unique and interesting piece. Just on the basis of looking at the pictures, I would say there is little reason to doubt that this piece is what it claims to be.
D. I doubt that a forger would bother to make a fake “MacNeil” oil painting.
E. Hermon would sketch when he went places or saw interesting people. He had an artists eye.
I asked Patrick where he got the work:
“The painting belonged to my grandparents, and when they died I asked my uncle if I could have it. I always liked it. I have no idea how they acquired it.”
“My grandparents and their grandparents are from the lower west side of Manhattan. In the 1970s my grandparents moved to CT. I don’t remember any stories unfortunately, but I will ask my mother. They definitely treasured it. Everybody always commented on it.”
“Who was Dave Blue? Did he live in a cave? Was he blind? Was he a freed slave or son of slaves? A mystery and so very intriguing.”
SO, Pat Orr agreed that I could post his “MacNeil Mystery” on my website. The next day another email arrived from Patrick:
“I have some interesting information for you. I spoke with my mother and she said H A MacNeil was a neighbor of my great grandparents in the Catskills. They had a summer house there, and he had one down the road. Apparently, my great grandfather was his doctor. In fact, H A did a bronze bust of my great grandfather which my brother has now at his house. The painting I have was a gift he gave to them.
… Unfortunately, my mom doesn’t know about the history or background of the painting itself. She doesn’t know when or where it was done.”
That fits in with the sticker on the back of the canvas being from a New York art supplier. I can imagine him picking up the canvas in New York, and then taking it with him on his travels and using it to do the study of the old black man.”
SO, the intriging “MacNeil Mystery” remains:
“Dave Blue who lived under the ground.”
Who was Dave Blue?
Did he live in the ground?
Was he blind?
Was he a freed slave or son of slaves?