Part 2: “Primitive Indian Music” ~ 1894 bronze casting discovered! Is this an early prototype of 1901 “Primitive Chant to the Great Spirit.” ???By
A recent inquiry from James Dixon has revealed a previously unseen 1894 bronze casting entitled “Primitive Indian Music.” The piece appears to be an early (or earliest) proto-type of “The Primitive Chant to the Great Spirit” by Hermon A. MacNeil dated 1901.
MacNeil marked this earlier piece on the base in block letters. He signed it simply “MACNEIL Sc”
It is dated [ '94 ] similar to the Marquette Building panels of 1895, some of which are dated [ '95]. SEE detail below:
This ‘Dixon’ piece is marked like no other bronzes of the “Primitive Chant.” All others are dated 1901. Jim tells us that his great grandmother, Eda Lord, lived in Evanston, Illinois, and purchased the statue between 1890 and 1900.
Jim Dixon knows this, because the sculpture has been in his family for four generations. He found our website seeking more information on his family’s MacNeil art piece. Here’s how Jim shares his family’s story:
My Great Grandmother, Eda Lord, purchased a MacNeil sculpture in the late 1800′s when she lived in Evanston, Illinois. The sculpture made its way down the family tree to my Grandmother and then to my mom and dad and it was passed on to me when my mom passed away last year. The statue is of an Indian boy and is about 24″ tall (bronze) It is labeled “Primitive Indian Music MacNeil s: ’94″ My review of the works of MacNeil pointed to the sculpture entitled “A primitive chant to the Great Spirit” at the Smithsonian Museum. My observation of the photo of “A primitive Chant…” lead me to believe that the two sculptures are the same. It this possible? Were multiple casting made of these statues? Was it common to re-cast the statue at a later time? I would be happy to send digital photos of the sculpture for your records, review and comments. Any further information you may have on this statue would be appreciated.
Thank you for your time and assistance.
This photo of markings on the piece read “PRIMITIVE…” and the next photo continues “INDIAN MUSIC”. The signature bears no initials, only the full last name, “MACNEIL Sc”. Additional marks include a date [ ' 94 ]. These markings are consistent with MacNeil’s pre-1900 dates on the Marquette Panels — last name only with no initials. The block letter ( MACNEIL ) is “identical to Panel #3 of the Marquette Building. In addition, consider the following:
- No foundry marks appear on this Dixon Family heirloom.
- More importantly no RBW (Roman Bronze Works) initials or name appears on the casting. Roman Bronze Works is where most museum pieces of this work were cast. They also bear the date of 1901. RBW opened its doors in 1900 the same time that Hermon MacNeil settled in College Point, Queens, NYC, New York.
- The absence of RBW’s distinguishing mark, as found on the 1901 casts, and the Dixon family story of acquisition would seem to indicate a date before 1900 for the casting of this piece.
- The story of Hermon MacNeil and his hiring of Black Pipe (see previous post dated April 25, 2012) as a studio assistant and model are consistent with an 1894 dating of this piece. In this conversation with J Walker McSpadden in 1924, MacNeil recalled the events:
- MACNEIL: “Yes, and you may find it an interesting yarn. Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show had been in Chicago during the Fair, and one of his braves was Black Pipe, a Sioux, a fine-looking fellow. He had stayed behind, and one day I met him on the streets, looking hungry and cold, and asked him if he wanted something to do. He did there was no doubt about that. I took him into the studio, fed him up, and then set to work modeling his head. I finished it in four hours, for I was not sure that I would ever see my Indian again; but he stayed with me in all for a year and a half, helping me with odd jobs about the studio. That’s his head there.”
- It was a life-size bronze, which he indicated, not done in full relief but resting on a plaque a strong piece of portraiture.
- MCSPADDEN: “In this and your later work with Indians,” I inquired, “did you have any trouble about making their likenesses? Some of them object to being photographed.”
- MACNEIL: “Yes, many of the older Indians object; they think it takes the spirit out of them. But Black Pipe had been among white folks long enough to know better, and with others I managed to get around their superstitions. Black Pipe, by the way, posed for ‘The  Primitive Chant 5 which is one of my best-known Indian subjects.”
- This is the spirited figure of a naked savage dancing to the music of his own flute. It has been widely copied in art prints. [ Source: Joseph Walker McSpadden, Famous Sculptors of America, (New York: Dodd, Mead and Company, 1924) pp. 311-12. ]
- This figure also appears to also be based on Black Pipe. CLICK HERE for more on MacNeil and Black Pipe
- The only other evidence of a MacNeil Bronze from this period (1894) is “the Vow to Vengeance” in the Art Institute of Chicago which lists a date marking on 1894 as well. SEE AIC Website HERE.
Many old photos of ‘plaster casts’ of this sculpture appear in museum archives. This ‘Dixon’ bronze appears to be a very different find than other models, either plaster or bronze.
- Thanks Jim for the photos and inquiry.
- This seems a VERY early bronze casting from MacNeil’s 1893-1895 days at the Art Institute of Chicago (1893-1895).
- I have seen Plaster sculptures from this period but not Bronze casts. Perhaps, MacNeil was venturing (experimenting) into bronze castings. Another bronze from 1894 is this “Vow to Vengeance” which was an early version of the later “Sun Vow” [ SEE Art Institute of Chicago holdings: CLICK HERE ]
This “Primitive Indian Music” seems an early version of his “Primitive Chant to the Great Spirit.” of 1901. Your piece seems to be a ‘first’ to me. Spelled RARE. There maybe others, but they are not in museum archives, or accessible on-line. I certainly have not seen them.
- All other bronze casts I have seen photos of date after 1900. This includes “Primitive Chant” from museums and auction house photos. All those have RBW initials from NYC -Roman Bronze Works.
- The work seems much less finished (polished). It appears rougher in texture (more primitive? early?). Not only Primitive Indian…, but also maybe Primitive MacNeil… ?
CONCLUSION (for now): This is a fascinating piece that seems to this non-curator-MacNeil-enthusiast to be one of Hermon’s earliest concepts of what he later cast as “Primitive Chant to the Great Spirit” in 1901.
That piece was cast by Roman Bronze Works when MacNeil settled there in his studio-home in College Point NYC.
NEXT: “Who was Eda Lord? And How did she become owner of this early MacNeil sculpture?