Hermon MacNeil ~ Postcard ~ 2012 MacNeil Month #1 ~ “Coming of the White Man”By
February is “MacNeil Month at HermonAtkinsMacNeil.com
Feb 27th, 2012 is the 146th Anniversary of Hermon MacNeil’s birth.
Hermon MacNeil’s “Coming of the White Man” sculpture in Portland, OR, appears to be the most popular postcard of all his statues.
Hermon A. MacNeil’s “Coming of the White Man” in Portland Oregon has an interesting story of the boulder-like stone that forms its base. This postcard image from Gib Shell shows the enormous granite stone on which MacNeil placed the statue.
The story, as I read it from a newspaper interview from about 1905, went like this. MacNeil was very particular about how his sculptures were mounted. Many of them were placed on bases that he made as a special part of the piece. The Marquette-Jolliet-Illini grouping in Chicago, the “Confederate Defenders” statue in Charleston each have stone bases with carvings, words, and art details that compliment the piece.
MacNeil wanted a stone base that fit into the wooded setting of Washington Park (Plaza Park) in Portland,Oregon. The site for the statue, I am told, overlooks the Columbia River to the East. The Native American pair [a Chief of the Multnomah, and the Medicine Man (scout)] look into the river valley and spy the first White explorers coming to their region. MacNeil portrays the Chief as tall, proud, and serene, while the Medicine Man is aroused, eager, and excited. [See: ” If MacNeil’s “Chiefs” Could Speak, What would They tell us Today? ].
MacNeil considered the cost of shipping a stone from New York. He decided it would cost too much. But he knew what he wanted in a stone. So he made a plaster model (that is what sculptors do). The model was 1/3 the size of the stone that he wanted. Then he shipped it with the statue to Portland. He sent instructions that a stone be found sufficient for a base.
When the statue arrived in Portland, Hermon came and found that no one had looked for a stone as he requested. So he took his 1/3 plaster model, put it in a boat and traveled up the Columbia River to a granite quarry about 20 miles up river. Leaving his plaster model in the boat, he went to the quarry and found a piece of granite sufficient to shape for a natural looking base. Finding a suitable stone, he had it transported to a barge and them brought up the river. At the foot of the hill where the statue was to be placed, it took a four horse team to pull the stone up the hill (this was 1904 remember).
MacNeil must have sculpted the base on site. It bears the name of the statue and the information on the donor. When looking at a sculpture I seldom take time to consider the base, pedestal, or the setting in which the sculptor, artist, architect may have placed it. I hope MacNeil’s story adds to your curiosity and appreciation of his work.