Archive for “Sun Vow”
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This topic seems a strange fit for a website devoted to the art of Hermon Atkins MacNeil, an American Sculptor of the 19th and 20th centuries, born in Massachuesetts of Scottish descendents.
Please, bear with me briefly while I take you on a journey toward today’s Native American Day story.
STEP ONE: An arrogant sense of Manifest Destiny often accompanied many 19th and 20th Century concepts of American culture, history, and pride. An inescapable irony in our own 21st Century, is that Hermon MacNeil and many of his contemporary sculptors placed many Native American images at the center stage of the historical and allegorical sculptures of World Fairs from 1890 to 1915. That is quite visible throughout this website. I am beginning to find that MacNeil’s embrace of Native American themes in his sculpting, especially from 1895-1905, still offers us lessons more than a century later in understanding culture, anthropology and life values.
STEP TWO: Today is Native American Day in South Dakota, my home for the last 31 years. I understand that California is the only other state celebrating a Native American Day. “In 1989 the South Dakota legislature unanimously passed legislation proposed by Governor George S. Mickelson to proclaim 1990 as the “Year of Reconciliation” between Native Americans and whites, to change Columbus Day to Native American Day and to make Martin Luther King’s birthday into a state holiday. Since 1990 the second Monday in October has been celebrated as Native American Day in South Dakota.” [ Wikipedia: Native American Day: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Native_American_Day ] In April 1993, Governor George Mickelson, a friendly giant of a man, and eight civic leaders were killed in a tragic plane crash in Iowa. His death was a great loss to this state and to hopes of Reconciliation. We still observe the day, even if it is in a subdued fashion.
STEP THREE: I am Daniel Neil Leininger, founding webmaster of HermonAtkinsMacNeil.com. I am a Caucasian descendant of Scottish German stock. My maternal grandfather. Thomas Henry McNeil (1860-1932), was a cousin to Hermon Atkins MacNeil (1866-1947). My mother, Ollie McNeil Leininger, always called Hermon MacNeil her “Uncle Hermon.” My middle name, Neil, was my mother’s gift. It reminds me of my heritage.
STEP FOUR: In researching the sculpture of MacNeil in recent years, I have developed a growing sense of “historical irony” in his placement of Native American images to symbolize the vitality of American expansion westward through his cultural era of Manifest Destiny. His choice moves against the strong current of self-absorption in contemporary cultures, both his and ours.
EXAMPLES 1-5: See photos above:
EXAMPLE 6: MacNeil made a Pan American Exhibition Award Medallion with an indigenous North American and an indigenous South American sharing a Peace Pipe. Probably a corrupted mix of Native images, but it is a allegory, a visually symbolic representation carrying a larger meaning.
THE STORY OF MacNEIL and CHIEF MANUELITO:
MacNeil never met Chief Manuelito. Two years after his death, MacNeil made a statue of him using only a photograph supplied by trader C. N. Cotton. The year was 1895. Thirty years earlier, Manuelito had survived the “scorched-earth” missions of the U.S. Army under Gen. James H. Carleton and Col. Kit Carson, the “Long Walk” (a 320 mile forced march of men women and children through the deserts) to Bosque Rodondo, and the imprisonment of Native peoples there for four years.
MacNeil made the statue tribute out of available materials. He built a wooden frame, a wire mesh surface and sculpted cement around it forming an eight foot two inch tall image of the Chief wrapped in a bright native blanket. His techniques seem to mirror the many ‘staff plaster’ statues he made for the 1893 Chicago Worlds Fair. He was visiting the southwest that summer with friends Hamlin Garland (writer) and C.F. Browne (artist) to experience the vanishing Native culture at the urging od E. E. Ayers and others.
As the story goes, after he finished he asked Cotton if the piece was acceptable. Cotton left and brought in a group of older Native women to enter the canvas enclosure where MacNeil had setup a open-air studio workshop. After much weeping, the women, one of whom was Manuelito’s wife, came out obviously moved by the experience of being with the piece.
Edward E. Ayers was the benefactor of the three artists who urged them to make the trip. A former member of the First California Cavalry Volunteers of the U.S. Army in AZ during the Civil War and the Native American oppressions of the 1860s,Ayers was stationed at the Cerro Colorado Silver Mine (now a ghost town) south of Tuscon in Pima County AZ. He was in charge of 14 men who guarded the silver mine from robbers. While there he happened on a copy of William H. Prescott’s Conquest of Mexico placed there by the mine’s owner Col. Samuel Colt, of revolver-fame. Ayers devoured the book repeatedly and began his life-long insatiable interest in Native American literature, manuscripts, and culture. He became an American business magnate, who is “best remembered for the endowments of his substantial collections of books and original manuscripts from Native American and colonial-era history and ethnology, which were donated to the Newberry Library and Field Museum of Natural History in Chicago.” [ Wikipedia ] (Editors Note: Ayers passion for understanding and preserving Native American culture continues into the 21st Century through the legacy of his estate now bequeathed to Newberry Library, Field Museum and related archieves.)
One hundred years after MacNeil make the trip and completed the piece, Joe Di Gregorio, (Gallup businessman and grocer), stepped in to rescue the Manuelito statue. It was badly needing repair and being stored in a warehouse going up for sale. Leslie Linchicum of the Albuquerque Journal relays this account in her March 2010 story:
“Longtime Gallup grocer Joe Di Gregorio and his wife, Christine, own the statue. They took custody after the building’s owner, in negotiations to sell to an out-of state buyer in 1983, turned to Di Gregorio and whispered, “Don’t let the bastards take the Indian.” Di Gregorio didn’t. He agreed to take custody of Manuelito and promised to keep him in Gallup.” ["Navajo Leader Stands Tall" Albuquerque Journal, March 11, 2010]
Now 116 years after MacNeil’s visit, McKinley County Fine Arts Commission in Gallup, NM is restoring the nearly 9 foot fragile artwork that MacNeil built in an outdoor tent. “Carolyn Milligan, chairwoman of the … Commission, has estimated that it will cost $25,000 to $38,000 to restore the sculpture, which has deteriorated from a hundred years of rail yard soot, showers with a fire hose and a well-meaning but inept repainting.”
Milligan continues, “The 1,000-pound piece is fragile, …. Wherever it stands, she said, it will probably attract crowds.” “It’s really quite a commanding piece,” Milligan said. “And it’s for the people.”
BEST WORDS OF THE DAY: “Don’t let the bastards take the Indian.” MacNeil and Manuelito would probably smile to hear those words. While virtually all of the ‘staff plaster’ sculptures of the World Fairs have crumbled to dust, Manuelito still stands tall.
After all, he does belong to the people, centuries of people, both Native and otherwise.
THAT’s WHY I BELIEVE THAT: MacNeil’s embrace of Native American themes in his sculpting from 1895-1905 still offers us lessons in culture, anthropology and life values for the 21st Century.
2.) William Wroth’s “Long Walk” to Bosque Redondo also provides poignant insight into this period of the United States management of Native American peoples and the life of Chief Manuelito who was part of that “Long Walk” and signed the treaty of 1868 that sought to restore Navajo lands after the disastrous interventions of the US government.
3.) “The Long Walk” A Ten (10) Part video story of the Navajo “Fearing Time” accounting atrocities against the Navajo people from 1863 to 1868. Researched and produced with support of the George S. and Delores Dore’ Eccles Foundation and the Pacific Mountain Network. Part 1; Part 2; Part 3; Part 4; Part 5; Part 6; Part 7; Part 8; Part 9; Part 10.
4.) “The Long Walk” For a Navajo perspective view this video by Nanebah, whose great-great grandmother survived “The Long Walk”.
5.) “300 Miles – Or Long Walk Of The Navajo – Richard Stepp” For a musical tribute with an ‘American Indian Movement’ perspective.
6.) Leslie Linthicum, staff writer for the Albuquerque Journal, gives a delightful article, “Navajo Leader Stands Tall”. It offers historical irony from our 21st Century on attitudes toward Native American culture through her story of the ‘management’ and ‘preservation’ of MacNeil’s iconic statue of Chief Manuelito.
- 1901 Pan-American Exposition – Buffalo, New York ~~ “The Rainbow City” (10.3)
- MacNeil Sculpture “Meets Me in St. Louis” (20)
- Expositions and World’s Fairs ~ Hermon A. MacNeil (15.6)
- MacNeil at the 1893 Columbian Exposition ~ ~ ~ THE CHICAGO YEARS ~ ~ (10.8)
We were recently contacted by John Graydon Smith, CEO of the Reading Public Museum in Reading, Pennsylvania, that a copy of MacNeil’s “Sun Vow” is exhibited there in the museum.
Follow-up contact from Ashley J. Hamilton, Director of Collections, tells us that the piece can be seen in the Founder’s Gallery in the center of the second floor. A map to the RPM is provide below:
The Director also graciously sent photos and a bit of history. This “Sun Vow” came to the museum in 1929 as part of the American Art collection but is displayed more prominently in the Founder’s Gallery on the 2nd floor.
A hot link to the RPM’s American Gallery has been added to this web-site’s list of “Museums: with MacNeil Art” in the right-hand column. A photo of James Earle Fraser’s “End of the Trail” is displayed there. [ Reading Public Museum, Reading PA; "Sun Vow" ] MacNeil and Fraser both married accomplished sculptors – Carol Brooks MacNeil and Laura Gardin Fraser. The two men, along with their wives, were colleagues throughout their careers. Both men have massive bas relief friezes, 100 feet long, that are prominent on the Missouri State Capitol Building.
The “Sun Vow” is certainly Hermon MacNeil’s most renowned piece of work. It is as endearing now as it was a century ago. Lorado Taft, often called the Dean of American Sculpture, wrote in 1904:
No one grudges the young artist the honors which this work has brought him: a silver medal at the Paris Exposition of 1900, and a gold medal at the Pan-American [Buffalo 1901]. Even were his career to be cut short today, this group, like Stewardson’s “Bather” or Donoghue’s “Young Sophocles,” is good enough and important enough to insure its author a permanent place in the history of American Art. [SOURCE: Lorado Taft, The History of American Sculpture, p 444. ]
Thank you, for your courtesy John Smith and Ashley Hamilton. We have added your “Sun Vow” to our virtual gallery of Hermon A. MacNeil’s works.
The size of this piece (72-74 measured variously) is the same of those in major museum collections. Several links on this website (see below and also “MUSEUMS: with MacNeil Art” section in lower right) connect to these “Sun Vows.” Possibly a dozen of these exist, publicly and privately.
Numerous smaller casts (about 36″) and even miniatures authorized by MacNeil himself were cast up until the 1920s. These also are highly desirable and found in many museums.
Buffalo Bill Historical Center – Cody WY (Sun Vow)
Orlando Museum of Art, Orlando FL
Chrysler Museum of Art – Norfolk, VA
Herman Atkins MacNeil often placed “Sc” behind his signature on sculptures (as seen above, and in other photos on his signature on this website.
According to McSpadden, an article on MacNeil in the Craftsman stated,
“In The Moqui Runner, The Primitive Chant, The Sun Vow, The Coming of the White Man, and many others of his Indian statues, MacNeil always gives you the feeling of the Indian himself, of his attitude toward his own culture of the Sun Vow that MacNeil has memorialized, are a compounded and profound statement of the power of art and artists. vanishing tribes, and his point of view toward the white race which has absorbed his country. It is never the Indian of Buffalo Bill’s Wild West, trapped out for curiosity seekers, but the grave, sad, childlike man of the plains, faithful to his own tribe, once loyal to us, though now resentful; and always a thinker, a poet, and a philosopher.” (McSpadden lists the following source: “The Art of MacNeil,” Craftsman. September 1909).
( See also: Florence Finch Kelly, “American Bronzes at the Metropolitan Museum: An Important Collection in Process of Formation.” Craftsman, 1907: Volume XI, February 1907, Number 5, pp 545-559.)
Dr. Andrew Walker, an associate curator at the St. Louis Art Museum, has written a chapter in “Shaping the West.” MacNeil’s ‘Sun Vow’ was chosen for the cover photo of that publication by the Denver Art Museum. Walker’s essay there is entitled: “Hermon Atkins MacNeil and the 1904 World’s Fair: A Monumental Program for the American West.” Walker has written and presented extensively on MacNeil.
While highlighting the work of Hermon Atkins MacNeil, Dr. Walker illustrates how the 1904 World’s Fair included a monumental sculpture initiative. He does this with narrative and photo description of the major sculptures that formed the grounds, fountains, waterfalls and buildings of the 1904 Louisiana Purchase Exposition in Saint Louis. The current St. Louis Art Museum (where Walker is a curator) was the “Palace of Fine Arts” conceived by Cass Gilbert, architect of the fair grounds (and later the US Supreme Court Building). Over a century later, Mac Neil’s three sculpture relief panels still look down from their vantage point above the three sets of doors at the main entrance.
The more I study this sculpture (as other MacNeil pieces?) the more new details I find in MacNeil’s creations.
The photo at right shows MacNeil’s Sun Vow with Daniel Chester French’s “Angel of Death” in the background. French and MacNeil were colleagues and collaborators. The Angel of Death has grasped the hand of the sculptor. See more of this DCF piece HERE.
Webmaster’s Comment: The beauty and ‘irony’ of the two sculptures together, long after the death of the two sculptors and the vanishing of the culture of the Sun Vow that MacNeil has memorialized, are a compounded and profound statement of the power of art and artists.
SHAPING THE WEST : American Sculptors of the 19th Century. With additional essays by Alice Levi Duncan, Thayer. Tolles, Peter Hassrick, Sarah E. Boehme, and Andrew Walker.
- Florence Finch Kelly, “American Bronzes at the Metropolitan Museum: An Important Collection in Process of Formation.” Craftsman, 1907: Volume XI, February 1907, Number 5, pp 545-559.)
This is a real photo postcard of the
California Palace of the Legion of Honor San Francisco, California.
This is from the Exhibition of sculpture in 1929
Photographed by Gabriel Moulin
for the National Sculpture Society of America.
This sculpture is named Sun Vow by artist Hermon A. MacNeil.
Photographer: Gabriel Moulin.
This is the first MacNeil Postcard of a monthly series on this website. Digital images of several old postcards have been contributed to us for use here. They will highlight his sculptures and public monuments over the years.
Lorado Taft published this picture in his 1903 book, the History of American Sculpture. That book and this same picture were re-published in 1924, and 1930. It does little to flatter this sculpture which is the most photographed of all of MacNeil’s works. Here is a more colorful rendering.
Image credits: Gib Shell for this old MacNeil Postcard
and the colorful photo as well! Thanks Gib!
Between 1893 and 1905 Hermon Atkins MacNeil and his sculptures were involved in four World’s Fairs. The Pan-American Exposition in Buffalo, New York (1901) was the second of these events. Popularly known as the 1901 World’s Fair in Buffalo NY, over 8 Million people attended the exhibition.
University of Deleware ~ Special Collections website offers this description;
The most unusual aspect of the Pan-American was the color scheme of its buildings. Unlike the pristine design of the “White City,” the architectural plan of the Pan-American was to build a “Rainbow City.” The buildings were done in a Spanish Renaissance style and were colored in hues of red, blue, green, and gold. The Electric Tower, the focal point of the fair, was colored deep green with details of cream white, blue, and gold. At night, thousands of electric lights outlined the buildings.
In the year 1900, MacNeil returned to the United States after three years in Rome and a fourth back in Paris. He settled in New York City. Within a year, MacNeil set up a home and an adjoining studio in College Point, Long Island (now Flushing, Queens ). His studio became his work place for the next four decades.
MacNeil’s “Sun Vow” and the “Moqui Runner” were both exhibited at the 1901 Fair. The “Sun Vow” had received a silver medal at the Paris exhibition of 1900. It was exhibited again at the Columbian Exposition of 1904 — the Saint Louis World’s Fair. As the years passed, it would become his best known work. (Webmaster’s Note: It recently graced the cover of the 2010 Denver Art Museum publication, “Shaping the West: American Sculptors of the 19th Century”)
At the Buffalo Exhibition he was asked to do the pediment sculptures for the Anthropological Building, as well as a grouping known as “Despotic Age.” Craven described the work as follows:
The spirit of despotism with ruthless cruelty spreads her wings over the people of the Despotic Age, crushing them with the burden of war and conquest and draging along the victims of rapine (plunder), a half savage figure sounds a spiral horn in a spirit of wild emotion. (Craven, SIA, p. 518)
MacNeil designed the official gold medal (displayed here in silver) struck in celebration of the Pan American Exhibition. His commissioned design bears a youthful woman standing beside a buffalo on the obverse side. She represents the triumph of the intellect over physical power. The reverse depicts two Indians with a sharing a peace pipe. One, a North American Indian, extends the extends the pipe to the South American Indian. Craven notes that
MacNeil chose to portray the theme of “Pan-American friendship through images of the red man, not the white man.” (Craven, SIA, P. 519). We can also observe that this choice extended MacNeil’s selection of native people into a second continent. [Photo credits CCya at http://www.coincommunity.com/forum/topic.asp?ARCHIVE=true&TOPIC_ID=25738]
President William McKinley was assassinated at the fair. On Sept. 6, 1901, Leon Czolgosz shot President McKinley in the Temple of Music, a pavilion of the Buffalo, New York, Pan-American Exposition. Eight days later, on Sept. 14, McKinley was dead. We do not know if MacNeil was present at the Fair when the President was attacked. In some sense, President McKinley’s overshadowed the rest of the Exposition. Buffalo promoted the event in order to be seen as a prosperous, modern, technologically-advanced city,. Instead Buffalo became seen as the city of the assassination.
In the years following The Buffalo Exhibition, a series of important commissions would raise him to prominence as a major American sculptor. One of those was, oddly enough, was the McKinley Monument Statue and Plaza at the front of the Ohio State Capitol Building where McKinley served two terms as the governor of the state.
The only remaining building of the fair is the New York State Pavilion. It is now the home of the Buffalo and Erie County Historical Society. (see map) A boulder marking the site of McKinley’s assassination was placed in a grassy median on Fordham Drive
1901 Pan-American Exposition links: (active as of this posting date)
- Buffalo History – Black Faces at the Pan American Exposition of 1901, Buffalo, New York Pan American Exposition of 1901, Buffalo, New York – with Map
- Illuminations Revisiting the Buffalo Pan-American Exposition of 1901 – Costs of the Pan-American Exposition Compared to other International Exhibitions
- Pan-American Exposition – Buffalo 1901 Souvenir Textile
- The Pan American Exposition — Buffalo in 1901
- Pan Am World Fair Buffalo
- Schiller Institute- President Wm. McKinley- Assasinated 1901
- The Last Speech of William McKinley
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.