Archive for New York
“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.
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?
Maybe we will get responses from other painting owners.
Maybe “Mr. Blue” has some relatives out there.
THANKS PAT, for making us curious.
Hermon MacNeil was the first president of the Clan MacNeil Association of America. This summer, the Galley will contain a feature article about him, written by Dan Leininger, webmaster of this website — HermonAtkinsMacNeil.com.
The previous posting of February 8, 2013, entitled, “MacNeil Kinsman ~ Hermon Atkins MacNeil and Robert Lister MacNeil,” tells part of the story of these two men.
Vicki Sanders Corporon, editor of the Galley, has accepted the article and accompanying photos that tell more of the story. She said in recent correspondence:
“Thanks for sending such excellent photos of Hermon’s sculptures. I know their inclusion, along with your article, will be the highlight of the upcoming issue! He really was one of America’s finest sculptors … how important is your mission to make sure he is fully appreciated!”
Sculpture photos of the Supreme Court (East Pediment); George Washington from the Washington Arch in NYC; Abraham Lincoln from University of Illinois; Ezra Cornell at Ithaca; Confederate Defenders Monument (1932) Charleston harbor, SC; and George Rogers Clark at Vincennes will illustrate the story.
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, the clan’s first president.
Stay tuned for more as the publication is released.
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.
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.
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 ]
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.