Archive for Ezra Cornell
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.
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 ]
For More history see:
Upon graduation from Massachusetts Normal Art School, MacNeil’s work was recognized with the award ‘first prize’ in his graduating class. This honor attracted the attention of Cornell University in Ithaca, New York. They invited him to teach as Instructor of Industrial Art. His discipline there was sometimes described as ‘modeling’ – meaning sculpturing from live models.
For three years (1886-89), he taught on the faculty. It seems a formative time. He saved his money, followed his dreams, and resigned in 1889 to travel to Europe studying art in Paris. The Cornell University, wanting to stay connected to this promising young sculptor, told him they would hold his faculty position for him.
Upon returning to the USA, MacNeil decided to settle in Chicago, instead. The reason was that the Chicago Worlds Fair was generating commissions for Sculpture as part of this ‘modern’ extravaganza.
Yet despite Hermon MacNeil’s decision to not return to Cornell University, the ties and the mutual affection, have remained over the years as evidenced in the following:.
- In 1893, he was commissioned to sculpt a bust of the first dean of the Law School Judge Douglas Boardman . The work remains in Myron Taylor Hall, inside of the Rare Book Room (as seen in the above link).
- In 1930 he was asked to make a sculpture of Ezra Cornell, the founder of the school to grace the campus. A moving account of his experience of this sculpture will be posted later on this website.
- Later, toward the end of his life, he chose to archive his personal papers in the library at Cornell where they remain the largest repository of his records and correspondence, to this day. See MacNeil Personal Papers
MacNeil’s fingerprints remain on Cornell University to this day.
The upcoming post, MacNeil Month #3, will feature “Studies in Paris.”
Over two hundred years after his birth [See the Party], Ezra Cornell is advising students on-line at Cornell University. His statue, sculpted by Hermon A. MacNeil, offered some sense of the founders presence on campus when it was dedicated ninety-one years ago. But MacNeil’s figure like all other such art captured the benefactor as ‘frozen in time’ and non-interactive.
So, enter the digital world, circa 1986. Jerry Feist, Assistant Dean of Students and Steve Worona ’70, M.S. ’73 inaugurated Dear Uncle Ezra (DUE) as the world’s first online advice column. Feist became the first Uncle Ezra, answering questions for years many before passing the torch to his unknown successor. The creation has continued to answer “over 20,000 questions, ranging from the serious (“I’m stressing out big time — where can I get help?”) to the silly (“Why is there no chair lift on the slope?”).”
The site provides an interactive voice for Cornell students to meet their “Dear Uncle Ezra” (whose identity is kept strictly under wraps). Not only is it popular on Cornell but several universities have copied the idea for their own campus websites. “Uncle Ezra is the original, of which all others are copies.According to Christine Ryu in an article in the Cornell Daily Sun,“Two centuries after his birth Ezra Cornell is most readily identified by his green statue on the Arts Quad.” So Hermon gave Erza a likeness. Computer technology and Staff creativity have given him a voice and a presence in student life and the staff services. Ryu quotes local sources as follows:
Resident Cornell history buff and former Sun columnist Corey Earle ’07 says “I think Dear Uncle Ezra is a phenomenal resource for the Cornell community,” noting that “with all the vast resources that Cornell students have available to them at Cornell, the most difficult thing is finding the right one to use. More than anything else, Uncle Ezra points people in the right direction.”
We at HermonAtkinsMacNeil.com have brought our own “Dear Uncle Hermon” into the digital age. Perhaps both Uncles would be proud. If Uncle Hermon’s art gave Ezra a three dimensional likeness on campus, then Dear Uncle Ezra (DUE) certainly gave him a voice. Ezra has come a long way from his telegraph technology days and Western Union fortune and empire that he used to build Cornell University. Thanks to both of our Uncles. You have provided quite an inheritance.
MacNeil’s said of this statue, “When I began to work on that, my heart fairly leaped within me. Mr. Cornell, I discovered, looked like my own father! … And so throughout it was a labor of love; it almost worked itself out.” [ J. Walker Mc Spadden, Famous Sculptors of America, pp. 319-320. ]
Dear Ezra http://ezra.cornell.edu/
Cornell Daily Sun http://cornellsun.com/node/2726
See Also: [ J. Walker Mc Spadden, Famous Sculptors of America, Libraries Press: Freeport, New York, pp. 319-320. ]
Ninety-four years after its first minting, the MacNeil “Standing Liberty quarter” retains a strong following among coin collectors. Tom LaMarre of Coins Magazine calls it MacNeil’s “real masterpiece.”
That says a lot coming from a coin expert like LaMarre. In a fascinating article at NumisMaster.com, he offers the usual numismatic history of the SLQ mixed with new information and delightful humor. The author has studied enough about MacNeil to mention about a dozen of his other works in the article including, “Sun Vow”, “Pony Express”, and “Ezra Cornell.” So, the “real masterpiece” compliment seems more than just another ‘two-bit’ comment. Some of LaMarre’s words which laud MacNeil’s Standing Liberty quarter include:
“Rich in symbolism and finely engraved detail, the new quarter reflected the spirit of peace and preparedness just before the United States entered World War I. It also revived a classical style in sharp contrast to the abstract and modern trends that were sweeping the art world at that time.”
LaMarre gives a thorough history of the design development, the changes, the controversies and the over-involvement of the Director of the Mint. A previous post on this website describes Jay H. Cline’s research book on the Standing Liberty Quarter includes nearly forty pages of letters between MacNeil and the Mint. LaMarre, finds this humorous quote on the over-involvement Mr Woolley in MacNeil’s project:
Mint Director Robert W. Woolley was so involved overseeing the preparation of the quarter design at the Mint that the Gettysburg Times predicted it would be known as the “Woolley quarter” or simply the “Woolley.”
The article offers some details of MacNeil history not seen before. He gives a discussion of the two women who served as models for the MacNeil’s art, namely Doris Doscher and Irene MacDowell. I had not known that Doris Doscher went public with her role in the SLQ on the TV show “I’ve Got A Secret” (or click HERE for second link).
Coin Collectors, especially SLQ fans and MacNeil enthusiasts alike, will enjoy Tom LaMarre’s article “MacNeil’s Standing Liberty Remains a Favorite.” It summarizes the importance of this art piece for collectors, it’s fascinating history, and MacNeil’s persistent creativity in developing the SLQ. LaMarre states:
The Standing Liberty quarter had a sculptural quality that set it apart from all previous quarter dollars. The Numismatist described it as “strikingly beautiful.” The New York Times called it a “silvern beauty.”
Coin collectors looking for more can graduate to Jay Cline’s book on Liberty Quarters. Cline’s book devotes Chapter 5 to telling the story of the two models that posed.
Either way the coin provides in interesting study in history, art and human nature. Treasury officials, namely Secretary William MacAdoo, had concerns about MacNeil’s delicate engraving not wearing as well in circulation as less artistic coin images of the past. But numismatists fine the delicate piece simply a treasure. Again LaMarre offers a good twist:
According to the Treasury secretary, it was a “fast-wearing” design that never quite worked out. In the opinion of collectors, it is a masterpiece that will stand in beauty forever.