Archive for New York
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.
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.
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!!!
In 1931, exactly 100 years after James Monroe‘s death (b. April 28, 1758 – d.July 4, 1831), Hermon MacNeil completed a bronze bust of this U.S. President. It was MacNeil’s fourth statue of a US President.
This bronze bust by Hermon MacNeil resides in the Hall of Fame of Great Americans on the campus of Bronx Community College (formerly NYU). The aging memorial of over 100 busts was designed by Stanford White, famous “Beaux Arts” architect of New York City.
MacNeil’s previous sculptures of U.S. Presidents include George Washington (NYC – Washington Arch ~ also designed by Stanford White), Abraham Lincoln (University of Illinois, Urbana, in $60 million restoration of Lincoln Hall), and William McKinley (Monument placed on the Ohio State Capitol grounds, Columbus, in 1906).
FOURTH OF JULY? Monroe was the third President to die on the 4th of July. Ironically, both John Adams and Thomas Jefferson (the second and third Presidents) died on the same day, July 4, 1826, which was the 50th anniversary of the 1776 signing of the Declaration of Independence. Reportedly Adam’s last words were “only Jefferson remains… .” In truth, Adams was wrong. He did not know that Jefferson had died at Montecello earlier that same day. John Adams was the last surviving signer of the Declaration, by just a matter of hours. Five years later at the age of 73, James Monroe (the fifth President) died on the Fourth of July, as well. His death was 55 years after the signing of the Declaration.
Monroe was the fifth President of the United States (1817–1825). He was the last president from the group known as the Founding Fathers. Monroe was also the last President from the Virginia dynasty. In 1936 MacNeil would sculpt one other Virginian from the Revolutionary era — “George Rogers Clark” (National Monument in Vincennes, Indiana site of the Clark’s Revolutionary victory at Fort Sackville).
Three other MacNeil busts are at the Hall of Fame:
- Roger Williams; Francis Parkman; Rufus Choate
- James Monroe: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/James_Monroe
- Hall of Fame for Great Americans; 2183 University Avenue; New York, NY 10453; (718) 289-5910; cuny.edu
The Hall of Fame of Great Americans - Series of Medals (3″ and 1 3/4″ format) were cast from 1962-1975. This occurred after Hermon MacNeil’s death in 1947. The James Monroe medal pictured below was based on MacNeil’s portrait bust. The medal was sculpted by C. Paul Jennewein, a sculptor who worked with Anna Vaughn Hyatt Huntington (a prolific sculptor and a student of MacNeil) who build Brookgreen Gardens into the world’s largest outdoor sculpture park.
Hermon MacNeil’s 1939 work for the prominent Yale Family of Salisbury, New York, commemorates 10 generations of their ancestry. The monument in the Salisbury Rural Cemetery (Click here) contains nine gilded reliefs of various occupations of the ancestors. A Bronze bas relief contains two circular portraits of William T. Yale, and son, Milton H. Yale. I have yet to see and photograph these works directly but have discovered them at the Salisbury Cemetery History link above, and the Smithsonian Institute Collections Search Center (an excellent catalog of art, sculpture, and photos from all over the United States).
Smithsonian Institute describes it as follows:
Nine rectangular, gilded reliefs are installed along three sides of a rectangular base. In each relief a male figure represents one of the various professions of the Yale family members. The professions, such as settler, surveyor, farmer, soldier, inventor, postmaster, and merchant, are inscribed at the base of each relief. The fourth side of the base has an inscription plaque containing two circular relief portraits, one of William T. Yale and one of Milton H. Yale [ Source: SI-CSC -bottom of page ]
Lisa Slaski has summarized the following information at her website: For more history on each Yale ancestor click on the link below:
[ This monument was dedicated by William T. Yale on 20 May 1939 to ten generations of the Yale family who made their way in this country. The monument is made of granite stone with nine small gold plated bas-reliefs figures sculpted by Herman A. MacNeil of College Point, L.I.
The five figures on the front of the monument are clearly visible from the road with two additional figures on each of the narrow sides. The reliefs represent the various professions of different members of the Yale family with each figure holding a tool or other symbol of that profession. The figures are, from left to right, the: Settler, Surveyor, Revolutionary Soldier, Farmer, Inventor, Developer, Postmaster, Merchant, and Executive.
Under the reliefs on the front of the monument is the following inscription:
Landed at Boston from Wales
Settled in New Haven Colony, 1638
Came to Salisbury about 1810, whence
The inscription on this plaque reads as follows:
|"The western part of this cemetery was given to the association by Milton H. Yale in 1907. The Yale Memorial Trust Fund, given in 1922 by his son William T. Yale, and other cemetery benefactors, is an endowment for the cemetery's perpetual care."|
On the sides of the monument, under the figures, are the words "Courage" and "Wisdom" and the names and dates of William's 9 ancestors, himself and Fred S. Yale of Flushing, L. I.:
|Capt. Thomas Yale||1647-1736|
|Divan B. Yale||1772-1849|
|Truman L. Yale||1815-1888|
|Milton H. Yale||1845-1920|
|William T. Yale||1875-1943|
|Fred S. Yale||1881-1971|
Judge Douglas(s) Broadman became the first Dean of the Cornell University Law School in 1887 when Hermon MacNeil was on the faculty. After the Judge’s death in 1891, MacNeil was commissioned to sculpt a bust of Professor Boardman for the University. This was one of MacNeil’s earliest works in marble. At the time he was residing in Chicago working on the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition
MacNeil taught modeling of sculpture at Cornell from 1886-89. He would have known Broadman who came to teach Law in 1887 after a distinguished career on the bench
According to Cornell Archives:
Douglass Boardman graduated from Yale in 1842 and then studied law. He was admitted to the bar in 1845 and practiced law in Ithaca, New York. From 1848-1851 he served as District Attorney of Tompkins County, New York, and from 1852-1856 was County Judge. In 1856 he and Judge Francis M. Finch formed a law partnership which continued until 1866 when Boardman was elected a justice of the Supreme Court for the 6th district. He was a director of the First National Bank of Ithaca from its organization in 1864 and became its president in 1884; became a trustee of Cornell University in 1875; and was appointed Dean when the Cornell Law School was organized. Judge Boardman retired from the Supreme Court in 1887, and died in 1891. [ http://rmc.library.cornell.edu/EAD/htmldocs/RMM01622.html ]