Archive for May, 2010
Hermon MacNeil has taken the Tortoise and the Hare to the Supreme Court.
There is a rabbit and a turtle at the Supreme Court! No this is not some legal joke. Not an insult of the U.S. Justice system. This is a concrete truth. Actually, it is a truth in marble. Not only did he take this ‘Fabled pair’ all the way to the Supreme Court, he left them there. So, inconspicuously for the last 78 years the whimsy of Hermon Atkins MacNeil has been hidden in plain sight, high on the back side of the highest court of the land. These two marble carvings represent the smallest pair of groupings in his work, “Justice the Guardian of Liberty” are nearly invisible in the corners below.
Like Aesop’s fable, perhaps the moral of MacNeil’s sculpture may be “Slow but steady wins the race.” Of course, the figurines offer MacNeil’s reference to Aesop’s Fable of the “The Hare and theTortoise.” A Hare one day ridiculed the short feet and slow pace of the Tortoise. The latter, laughing, said: “Though you be swift as the wind, I will beat you in a race.” The Hare, deeming her assertion to be simply impossible, assented to the proposal; and they agreed that the Fox should choose the course, and fix the goal. On the day appointed for the race they started together. The Tortoise never for a moment stopped, but went on with a slow but steady pace straight to the end of the course. The Hare, trusting to his native swiftness, cared little about the race, and lying down by the wayside, fell fast asleep. At last waking up, and moving as fast as he could, he saw the Tortoise had reached the goal, and was comfortably dozing after her fatigue. [George Fyler Townsend, Three Hundred Æesop’s Fables: Literally Translated from the Greek (London: George Routledge and Sons, 1867), pp. 19-20.] SeeWikipedia
Conceived in the early 1930’s after another economic crisis, MacNeil filled the sculpture with hundreds of serious allegorical references and illusions (more about these in later posts). The figure of Confucius (to the left of the centered Moses) caused more public comment.
MacNeil worked with Cass Gilbert, the architect for the US Supreme Court Building project, who gave his artists interpretive license in designing their works.
Architect Cass Gilbert was charged by Chief Justice Taft to design “a building of dignity and importance suitable for its use as the permanent home of the Supreme Court of the United States.” (InfoPlease)
The complementary pediment on the east side of the building bears an inscription devised by Chief Justice Hughes: “Justice, the Guardian of Liberty.” In his frieze sculptor Herman A. MacNeil pays tribute to the civilizing effects of legal authority. A trio of ancient lawgivers—Moses, flanked by Confucius and Solon—occupies the center of the panel, which otherwise features allegorical figures intended to symbolize beneficent aspects of judicial dispute resolution. (Answers.com)
None of the thirteen figures on MacNeil’s east pediment grouping, however, are quite as gentle and amusing as the turtle and bunny that bracket the piece.
So, Thanks for the memories Uncle Hermon! 😉
Hermon A. MacNeil Park in College Point, Queens, offers 29-acre of waterfront property “popular with runners, walkers, and families year-round for its wraparound promenade with sweeping views of the East River, Long Island Sound, Whitestone Bridge, and the Manhattan skyline.”
MacNeil Park, formerly known as Chisholm Park, was renamed in honor of Hermon Atkins MacNeil in 1966, the 100th anniversary of his birth. MacNeil was a long time resident of College Point where he worked at his home and adjacent studio. Parks & Recreation Commissioner Adrian Benepe describes the spot, named for one of America’s greatest sculptors, as “a spectacular waterfront landscape … with sweeping views of the Long Island Sound from its waterfront promenades, majestic trees, ballfields, and a 9/11 Memorial, this park is worth a detour.”
According to the City of New York Parks and Recreation Department, “In spring 2005, MacNeil Park became the third in New York City to introduce a memorial grove to the victims of September 11, 2001. The site was chosen for its direct views of Lower Manhattan and its significance as a place of community gathering. The collection of 31 white flowering trees and 800 narcissus plants was jointly funded by Parks & Recreation and the U.S. Forest Service as part of a citywide effort to develop urban forests as living memorials. Each of the grove’s rare trees (such as White Flowering Redbuds and Thornless Hawthorne) was selected for its unique beauty. The grove is divided into three connected areas, each portraying a symbolic aspect of how human beings deal with suffering and loss.“
History of MacNeil Park
“MacNeil Park was formerly known as Chisholm Park, after the young couple who lived in the stone mansion on the site in the 1840’s. Mayor Fiorello LaGuardio made the Chisolm mansion his summer City Hall in 1937, conducting his municipal business in July and August on the shores of the East River.
The old mansion was razed between 1939 and 1941, and a flagpole now marks the site. In 1966, Mayor John V. Lindsay signed his first local law, renaming the park for Hermon Atkins MacNeil (1866-1947), a College Point resident and nationally renowned sculptor.
MacNeil’s sculptures can be seen in four of New York City’s five boroughs, including Washington as Commander-in-Chief at the base of the Washington Square Arch in Manhattan; a cast of his Sun Vow in the Pratt Institute in Brooklyn; the Flushing War Memorial in Queens; and four busts in the Hall of Fame of Great Americans at Bronx Community College. His other notable works include the figures on the Supreme Court Building in Washington, D.C. and Out From Chaos Came the Dawn, which earned him the honor of being the first American to receive the Prix de Rome.”
Hermon Atkins MacNeil would probably be amused to know that his bronze sculpture bust of Lincoln which sold for $450 to the University of Illinois, now rests in their walk-in vault. They do not fear theft, though to be honest, ‘Abe’ did himself go out for a brief walk in 1979 when the bust mysteriously disappeared. At that time, a note sent to the Daily Illini read, in part, “Gone out for a breath of fresh air. I’ll be back by the end of the week.”
Thanks to public vigilance, the bust was sighted and recovered from a tree stump at the former University golf course on Florida Avenue. (Some believe that to be the first documented incident of Mr. Lincoln strolling to a golf course which is now a much more commonly accepted behavior for Presidents).
Unlike the 1979 prankster incident, the present hijacking of Mr Lincoln seeks to insure his safekeeping as an art object during the $65 million-dollar restoration project of Lincoln Hall to be completed in 2012. For the most part, the 125-pound bronze sculpture does not normally move under its own power and tends to stay in one place. That place, a prominent perch recessed between the twin spiral staircases, graces the marbled east foyer entrance of historic Lincoln Hall.
Dave Evensen, of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences “News” states:
“The bronze bust is one of eight created in 1915 by sculptor Hermon Atkins MacNeil. According to John Hoffman, curator of the Illinois History and Lincoln Collections at the University, MacNeil modeled them off a statue he created for a contest in Springfield, Ill. … Details on the whereabouts of the other busts are scarce. According to the Smithsonian Art Inventories Catalog, three others are located at the University of Pennsylvania Law School, Beloit College Wright Museum of Art, and Amherst College Mead Art Museum. Otherwise, the locations of the others are unknown—although they have not necessarily vanished. The Smithsonian, for example, does not list Lincoln Hall as the location for one of the busts.”
James Spese, U of I’s Facilities & Service project manager for Lincoln Hall, (unlike the 1979 pranksters) publicly admits that he had the bust moved in 2009 to protect it from damage during the roughly $65 million restoration project. (Thank You, James. Uncle Hermon would have approve!) It will be returned to its proper spot when the work is complete in 2012. The renovations will include reestablishing the original lighting that spotlighted the bust. The MacNeil creation, a longtime favorite of students, has its bronze nose polished from many years of good-luck pats from students as they pass by.
The original selection of the MacNeil work to be showcased in Lincoln dates back to Lorado Taft, who recommended it to the University over a copy of the Gutzon Borglum sculpture in the US Capitol rotunda. Taft commented that central in MacNeil’s work is “a dependable sanity most gratifying to meet amid the eccentricities and vagaries of curent endeavor.”
Muriel Scheinman in her Guide to Art at University of Illinios (pp. 42) describes the work as follows: “Lincoln’s expression is contemplative in this gentle, very appealing sculpture. An air of intimacy as well as tension is created by the tightly folded arms, which rest on a simple rectangular plinth, while the hand clutching a document suggests something of a troubled inner conflict.”
Thank you University of Illinois for the preservation of Lincoln Hall and this sculpture of our favorite artist, Herman Atkins MacNeil.
D. Neil Leininger, webmaster
Gregory H. Jenkins AIA, Chicago architect and keeper of the “Chicago Sculpture in the Loop” website has documented the restoration of Hermon Akins MacNeil ‘s 117 year old bronze relief panels depicting the burial of Pere Marquette by the Native American people who he befriended. The four panels are part of the historic character and preservation of the The Marquette Building, a Chicago architectural and business land mark currently home to Holabird and Roche.
“I walk by there everyday on my way to work,” my daughter, Rachel, said when I showed her Gregory Jenkin’s well-done website postings. The four bronze panels are an inconspicuous part of the Marquette Building at 140 Dearborn St in the downtown. These art treasures are easily lost to passer-byes in the bustling Chicago loop. As you can see from the photo below, they reside about 10 feet above the noise and scurry of the fast-paced pedestrians, cars, limos, delivery trucks and on Dearborn St (as in Ft Dearborn, children! – see below).
The four panels above the doors were restored in the summer of 2009 by the John D and Catherine T MacArthur Foundation, as a part of its ongoing curatorship of the arts and the The Marquette Building. Gregory H. Jenkins posted the following comments on the significance of this art and preservation on the website:
“The Marquette Building was completed in 1895. Twenty years had passed since the Battle of Little Bighorn. And the passing of the the American Indian had, by then, become on object of confused Romanticism. The Fort Dearborn Massacre was still a story Chicago grandparents told their grandchildren. (Bad Indians!) But the country now stretched from Ocean to Ocean. And the time of Jacques Marquette and Louis Joliet hiking a bucolic Chicago River –helped along by Native Americans — was, surely, regretfully, gone forever.”
July 18, 2009 – Post 3: http://chicagosculptureintheloop.blogspot.com/2009/07/marquette-building-hermon-atkins_18.html
July 22, 2009 – Post 4: http://chicagosculptureintheloop.blogspot.com/2009/07/marquette-building-hermon-atkins_22.html
Jenkins tells some of the MacNeil history of his contact with the Lakota Sioux and other Native people who were a part of Buffalo Bill Cody’s Wild West Show in conjunction with the Chicago World’s fair of 1893: “Hermon Atkins MacNeil met Black Pipe, of the Lakota Sioux on the Midway in 1893. This Indian, who had seen the last of the open prairies, performed at Wild Bill Cody’s Wild West Show at the Chicago World’s Fair and stayed in Chicago after the Fair to work and model for MacNeil. His rough features, often repeated in MacNeil’s work, are contrasted here with the delicate images of two children. Both gain from the proximity.” Posted by Gregory H. Jenkins AIA
So Chicagoans, look up next time you are on Dearborn Street and take in the art and history of Chicago.
Thank You Mr. Jenkins, for lifting our eyes above the sidewalk and for enjoying the Loop Art from places as remote as South Dakota (Land of the Lakota, Dakota and Nakota people) ~ the Webmaster, Sioux Falls, SD
The statue of Cornell University founder, Ezra Cornell, was dedicated on June 12, 1919 after a delay brought on by the World War I. A picture of the dedication event (complete with straw-hats on the gentlemen in attendance) can be seen at the link below to the Cornell Chronicle Online along with a news account of the decication. Hermon Atkins MacNeil came to Cornell in 1886 (at the age of 20) to teach modeling (Instructor of Industrial Art). He taught there for 3 years. The Cornell Chronicle article sites a tradition that “Miniatures of the statue, known as the ‘coveted Ezra,’ are given to the university’s foremost benefactors as a token of the university’s appreciation for their support.”
Some marketing of these miniatures of this MacNeil sculpture are still done today by art dealers. The following link provides an example with further data, photo detail, and dimensions.
More on Ezra Cornell can be viewed in the The Erza Files
From Portland Parks & Recreation – “Coming of the White Man” was given to the City by the family of David P. Thompson, an early Portland mayor and donor of the Elk statue downtown in the Plaza Blocks. This bronze statue, sculpted by H. A. MacNeil and completed in 1904, features two Native Americans. Facing eastward, they look down upon the route that ox teams trudged bringing settlers to this part of the country. The older of the two is said to be Chief Multnomah of the Multnomah people.”
Now, secluded in a isolated section of Washington Park, this fantastic artwork “Coming of the White Man” steps out of the 19th Century time machine. For decades it has been kept off the track of tourists and acts as a rendezvous for the West Hills bottle gang. A bit of a treasure hunt? Go to 25th and Burnside and climb all the stairs!
Considering its over 100 years old and terrifically politically incorrect (our irony, the figures look toward the U of Portland statue three miles away, of Clark and York, with some traitorous guide), The Coming of the White man looks pretty good. Someone at sometime broke off the branch one of the figures held, and it could use a routine cleaning and waxing. The craftwork is excellent, quite first rate anywhere for that time.