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 ]
Without Robert Thurston’s rescue, Hermon MacNeil’s first attempt at sculpture may have never survived MacNeil’s own self-critical judgement.
The story of that event was published six years later accompanying this ‘celebrative’ news story in the New York Evening Post. It recounts how Thurston saved MacNeil’s first work just as he was ready to breakup the clay piece. In so doing, Thurston nurtured the ‘tender’ confidence of his first Instructor of Art to strive as a sculptor, to study in Paris (1889-90), and eventually to win the Rinehart Scholarship (1895).
SATURDAY. DECEMBER 14, 1895.
~ A Cornell Sculptor ~
Ithaca, N. Y., Dec. 13, 1895
Hermon Atkins MacNeil, formerly Instructor in drawing here, now of Chicago, has won the Rinehart Roman prize in sculpture entitling the holder to a studio and other accommodations in the Villa Ludoviel (sic) at Rome besides $1,100 for expenses. Mr. MacNeil did his first piece of modeling at Cornell, “Putting the Shot.” from the then champion all around athlete of the university. He was about to break it up when Prof. Thurston, director of Sibley College, interposed to save it and now adorns that college. Prof. Thurston’s encouragement led Mr. MacNeil to devote himself to sculpture.
~ THURSTON ~ the CONSUMMATE ENCOURAGER
Nearly twenty-years later MacNeil would return the favor. The dedication of MacNeil’s bas-relief of Thurston at the ASME national office was held on Tuesday, February 8, 1908. All Thurston’s colleagues who spoke tributes shared their personal regard and the encouraging impact that his life left on each of them. Dr. Alex. C. Humphreys, Chairman, Member of the Society; and President of Stevens Institute of Technology gave introductory remarks describing him as a large-hearted, gentle, lovable, helpful man, a man of vision, an optimist:
“I never saw him other than cheerfully responsive to a request for help, and I was never allowed to feel that I was intruding when I went to him for counsel. While demanding respect and obedience from those under him, his attitude towards them was characterized by a sympathetic desire to be helpful.”
Mr. Wilham Kent, one of the organizers of the Society (ASME) and a close friend and co-worker with Dr. Thurston shared personal memories from his eighteen year friendship with Dr. Thurston:
“Dr. Thurston was called as the first director. No choice was ever more fortunate. I will not undertake to recount all that followed in physical development from his administration, except to say that the number of students increased from one hundred to eleven hundred, buildings grew, facilities grew, everything that his hand touched grew, and all the growth was healthy. ” … “His everpresent cheerfulness was an inspiration, and his patience was an example. There is no subtle mystery about why he was so loved and respected at Cornell, nor why he accomplished so much. His ways were ways of peace, and his achievements were a series of creative victories. He was a strong man, so strong that we honor his memory tonight. He has gone, but the influence of his life lives.” ~ Mr. Wilham Kent, Feb. 8, 1910, at Dedication of the Thurston Plaque ~
Hermon MacNeil’s three years at Cornell (1886-1889) with Professor Robert Henry Thurston shaped the rest of his sixty years of life and his entire career as a sculptor. After leaving there, MacNeil would eventually return to make four major sculptures for the University. In his will executed after his death, he ordered that all of his professional papers be left to the Cornell University Library (Division of Rare and Manuscript Collections #2425).
Of Robert H. Thurston’s thousands of career accomplishments, perhaps his quietest yet most profound, was his personal praise for Hermon MacNeil‘s sculptural talent and the confidence with which he encouraged Hermon to develop those skills in Europe and the Beaux Arts schools of Paris.
In the 1880s, Thurston was a man of vision who became a central pioneer in the developing field of Mechanical Engineering. He would soon become the first president of the newly organized American Society of Mechanical Engineers (A.S.M.E.). The faculty of Cornell brought him there to start the Sibley College of Engineering.
The bronze memorial sculpture at the right was a tribute to Thurston who died in 1903. The Cornell University, its Sibley College of Engineering and the Ithaca community conceived, subscribed and and commissioned MacNeil to sculpt this bas-relief in 1908. A duplicate of this bronze memorial was placed in New York City at the offices of the ASME. Thurston was the first president of that national engineering society.
In 1886, Hermon MacNeil was a fresh twenty year-old graduate of Boston State Normal Art School. MacNeil was then the same age as a certain carpenter named Ezra Cornell when he walked forty-one miles (in 1826) into the town of Ithaca from DeRuyter, New York. Arriving at the crest of Libe Slope (the current location of MacNeil’s statue of him), Cornell could see the town of Ithaca in the valley below. The place looked so promising as young Ezra could see manufactured goods and commodities being transferred from wagons to steamboats and barges. University history explains it this way:
At last he had come to a place, Cornell decided —before continuing down the hill, taking a boardinghouse room for the night and finding a carpentry job the next morning— where he could make something of himself. [ Cornell Engineering: A Tradition of Leadership and Innovation, p. 2. ]
Exactly sixty years later, another twenty year old was brought to Ithaca, this time by Professor Robert Thurston. MacNeil had just Graduated with first honors from the Boston State Normal Arts School (Massachusetts School of Art). This talented youth brought skills that Thurston desired all of his engineers to develop (mechanical drawing, drafting, architectural drawing, geometries, modeling and sculpting.
So Thurston hired Hermon MacNeil as Instructor of Art to teach these skills. The engineer degree required four years of these classes. Thurston wanted mechanical engineering students to know how to draw and to absorb the visual skills of a true artist.
Stay tuned for more (Part 2) on MacNeil’s first attempts at sculpting at Cornell and Professor Thurston’s vital role in affirming Hermon’s talent and future as a sculptor.
100 years after the birth of Hermon MacNeil and fifty years after the Standing Liberty Quarter was minted, Doris Docsher Baum appeared on the TV quiz show “I’ve Got a Secret” on April 4, 1966.
The original Penn Station (1910-1964) was built from beautiful pink marble similar in appearance to what can be found at Hermon MacNeil‘s World War I memorial bearing the names of Flushing’s dead in that conflict. MacNeil, a College Point resident, also designed the “Standing Liberty” quarter (the predecessor to today’s Washington Quarter), the Marquette Memorial in Chicago, and 4 busts in the Hall of Fame of for Great Americans, among many other works.
The traditional Roman fasces consisted of a bundle of birch rods tied together with a red ribbon as a cylinder around an axe. Though adopted by Italian fascism in the early 20th Century, the symbol seems to have avoided the stigma that the swastika acquired after its adoption by the Nazis.
[ SOURCE: http://forgotten-ny.com/2006/10/northern-boulevard-in-flushing/. ]
Doris Doscher was also model for Karl Bitter’s Abundance in the Pulitzer Fountain at the Plaza Hotel in New York.
Hermon MacNeil’s bronze bust of self-educated Illinois Lawyer Abe Lincoln was returned to its gloriously restored niche in Lincoln Hall on the University of Illinois campus in Champaign-Urbana to begin its second century on the Illinois Circuit of higher education.
MacNeil originally sculpted a full length, standing model of the Illinois Lawyer that he later re-sculpted as a bust. From that piece he had Roman Bronze Works make eight castings of his Lincoln Lawyer. In 1928 at the recommendation of Lorado Taft, the University of Illinois purchased this one of the MacNeil sculptures of the younger Lincoln.
In 1929, MacNeil’s work provided an iconic centerpiece for the Grand Stairway foyer of newly designed building. On February 12, 2012, the restored bust was returned to its original niche, in the beautifully renovated Lincoln Hall.
For MORE history on the “Lawyer Lincoln” CLICK HERE
PHOTOS and MORE: The lead photo above and three photos below are from the website of the Lincoln Hall Renovation (CLICK HERE) project at the University of Illinois. They show the re-installation of MacNeil’s work. The University has now completed the $66.4 million dollar restoration (Fact Sheet) of Lincoln Hall. [SEE MORE MacNeil-Lincoln history below the photos]:
Art and museum records locate four of MacNeil’s eight “Lincoln Lawyer” castings. the others “Lincoln Lawyer” busts by MacNeil appear incomplete as follows:
- University of Pennsylvania, Office of the Curator, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania – Control_Number: 77001611
- Beloit College, Wright Museum of Art, Beloit, Wisconsin – Control_Number: 75008855
- Amherst College, Mead Art Museum, Amherst, Massachusetts: Control_Number: 20090014
- Amherst College, Mead Art Museum, Amherst, Massachusetts 01002 Accession Number: S.1932.4 Source: Smithsonian American Art Museum ~ SIRIS
At age 78 Hermon MacNeil wrote an autobiographical sketch in June 1943 from his home in College Point. A copy of it is in the MacNeil Papers at the Cornell Library Archives. My sister, Melba, found a copy in mother’s family files.
Only 13 typed pages in length, MacNeil’s Sketches provides brief reflections on his life and a listing of his sculptures. The list catalogues 42 pieces that he made in his nearly fifty years as a sculptor. One very brief entry says simply:
“D. L. Moody. Northfield University, Mass., 1920″
MacNeil’s mention of a sculpture of D. L. Moody was my first awareness that he had ever done such a piece.
Searching the internet I found TWO photos (one on the right and another larger one below). They both come from the Northfield Mount Hermon (Click HERE) website. The school is a merger of the two academies for poor and underprivileged children (one for girls and one for boys) that Moody founded in 1879 and 1881. A brief history of the school can be found on Wikipedia. [Click Here].
MORE below photo:
While I await confirmation from NMH, this undoubtedly appears to be the work referenced by Hermon in his autobiograhical sketches as a 78 year old man. While finding ’undiscovered’ works by Hermon MacNeil over the last 3 years, has been one recurring delight of building this website, I never cease to be amazed when I find one. This particular discovery seems amazing for several reasons:
- Both of my Parents (Rev. Louis Lee Leininger, Sr. and Ollie McNeil Leininger) attended Moody Bible institute in Chicago in 1926-28.
- I never heard my parents ever mention this sculpture.
- If my mother knew of “Uncle Hermon’s” bust of Dr. Moody, she would have mentioned it , repeatedly!
- To my knowledge, my parents never visited in Massachusetts, never saw, or ever knew of this piece.
- This is a one of a kind piece. Thus hard to find in a private school. Not known to the general public.
- I have no information on how it was commissioned, or how Hermon MacNeil became connected with this project.
STAY TUNED ! There has got to be MORE. I will let you know as soon as I find it.
ENJOY these lovely close-ups from the NMH website!!!