Archive for September, 2010
Hermon A. MacNeil’s sculpture of George Washington on the Arch in Washington Square, Greenwich Village, has become a fixture in the background of New York City. That is a reality.
I recently saw a glimpse of the Arch over Will Smith’s shoulder during a race scene from the 2007 film “I Am Legend.” Smith plays Robert Neville, a character based on the apocalyptic novel of the same name by Richard Matheson. Washington Square provides the setting for 100s of New York scenes in the cinema. See forty popular examples HERE.
In the nearly 100 years since its installation, MacNeil’s marble depiction of George Washington as Commander of the Continental Army has undergone acclaim, abuse, neglect, appreciation, decay, and finally in 2004, restoration. Fortunately, neither the statue or NYC have experienced the epidemic level of decay depicted in the disturbing “I am Legend” novel and film mentioned above. That novel was fiction. Repair of both MacNeil’s Washington and Calder’s Washington were part of the Arch restoration proposal of NYC Dept of Parks and Recreation. That part is reality. Renovations to the entire Park are ongoing. Citizens groups like the Washington Square Association and Friends of Washington Square Park help to lead the way.
The original MacNeil piece was added to the Arch twenty years after its initial construction in 1892. The artist accompanied his Washington with the allegorical figures of “Fame” and “Valor” in the background of the panel framing his work. Alexander Stirling Calder added the figures of “Wisdom” and “Justice” to his Washington as President on the west leg of the arch. Before the renovation LIFE magazine did a feature article on the weather-beaten figures.
For a Video Tour and narration Greenwich Village, Washington Square, and the Arch with MacNeil’s Washington and the other sculptures (Calder, MacMonnies) see this MuseumPlanet site: http://www.museumplanet.com/tour.php/nyc/wv/15
For another view of MacNeil’s Washington as Commander-in-chief and an amazing virtual tour of the Washington Square Park and Greenwich area check out WorldFlicks also.
While decay and apocalyptic fears abound in every generation, we can be thankful for the good people of NYC, their Department of Parks and Recreation, and Citizens groups like the Washington Square Association and Friends of Washington Square Park for maintaining the heritage and beauty our everyday history as US citizens.
Visit this MacNeil Statue in Washington Square, Greenwich Village, New York City. Use the Google Map guide below for directions: —>
We have just discovered that MacNeil’s “Coming of the White Man” on the west coast has a twin on the east coast. This recent finding was made while researching the website of the Poppenhusen Institute of Queens, Long Island, New York. The institute is located just blocks from the site of Hermon A. MacNeil’s home and studio in College Point.
Nestled in the trees of Portland Oregon’s Washington Park, the artwork pictured here steps out of the 19th Century time machine. Its location keeps it off the track of tourists except for adventurous hikers on a bit of a treasure hunt? (Go to 25th and Burnside and climb all the stairs!)
Likewise, the New York twin is also secluded but indoors rather than outdoors. Inside the auditorium (ballroom) of the Poppenhusen Institute is a second “Coming of the White Man” . Apparently, this holding was a gift by the artist to his neighborhood Cultural and Art center. The Institute was a gift of Conrad Poppenhusen to the community that he founded and developed that eventually became College Point. MacNeil and other artists lived there to be near the Roman Bronze Works, a prominent art foundry of that period.
The Institute’s website states:
“This sculpture, of Tachoma’s first view of the white man, was a gift to the institute by Hermon A MacNeil. The park at 115th Street on the East River is named after him as this was where is studio once stood.”
Click HERE for a brief virtual tour of this statue at Poppenhusen Institute.
Click HERE for a facebook link to this statue at Poppenhusen Institute.
The Portland statue was a gift of the family of David P. Thompson after his death. His biography on Wikipedia states in part:
“David Preston Thompson (1834-1901) was an American businessman and politician in the Pacific Northwest. He was governor of the Idaho Territory from 1875 to 1876. A native of Ohio, he immigrated to the Oregon Territory in 1853. In Oregon, Thompson would become a wealthy business man, and served in the Oregon Legislative Assembly both before and after his time in Idaho, with election to both chambers of the legislature.”
Web links: – Poppenhusen Institute – Virtual Tour (16 sec) MacNeil\’s \’Coming of the White Man\’ at Poppenhusen Institute
“The Poppenhusen Institute was built in 1868 with funds donated by Conrad Poppenhusen, the benefactor of College Point. The original charter specified that it be open to all, irrespective of race, creed or religion, giving people the opportunity to improve their lives either by preparing them for better job or improving their leisure time.” (see website at above link)
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. ]
The year was 1895. Hermon MacNeil, along with two friends (painter, Charles Francis Browne, and author, Hamlin Garland), spent the summer traveling and living in the Territories of New Mexico and Arizona. There they sought direct experience among the Indians that would give birth in them to a new, truly American art. “The Indian caught my fancy as it had with many young sculptors,” wrote H.A. MacNeil in his “Autobiographical Sketch.” They became eye-witnesses to the life and culture of the Hopi (formerly known as Moki, and Moqui) people.
“We found Indians a plenty and perhaps because I was keenly interested in them I was in heaven and I flared to a high pitch, working from sunrise to dark,” wrote the twenty-nine year old MacNeil. Like many ethnologists of that period, the Snake Dance deeply impacted his cultural awareness and artistic curiosity.
The Snake Dance ritual involved fifty or more men and lasted for ten days. As a part of the ceremony the priests would dance with live snakes in their months (presumably making the reptiles the bearers of the prayers of the priests). The climax of the ceremony involved a four mile run returning the snakes (now endued with prayers) to their natural home.
“There was something superb in all this,” wrote Garland in his “Among the Moki.” Something natural, strong, and wholesome.” Garland described the Runners, with their black hair flowing down over their shoulders, “They ran with the chest thrown out and with light step, which only three hundred years of daily climbing to and fro on this cliff could give. It was like seeing one of the old Greek games.” (Among the Moki).
MacNeil never forgot the indelible visions of these moments in his artist’s eye. He writes, “Every artist has at various times strong impressions that he longs to express. The sensation received by me from this dance was without doubt the deepest I had received. There was an abandon, fury, and sincerity.”
One reviewer of MacNeil’s work from this period captures their energy and abandon by saying:
“In sculpture those fresh, spirited Indians, by H. A. MacNeil, are so strong and full of vigor that they command at once one’s admiration and respect. The strongly developed and “straight-as-an-arrow style”surely marks the Indian as nature’s nobleman. MacNeil knows just how to bring out their striking characteristics, and even on a small scale the work is grandly conceived.” (Sculptors at the American Art Exhibition.” Arts for America 4 (November 1895) p. 150.)
Snake Dance – For a short history see: — http://www.brownielocks.com/snakedance.html
HISTORY NOTE: MacNeil’s experience with the Hopi follows less than five years after tragic deaths of December 1890 — namely, Wounded Knee Massacre — The killing of Chief Sitting Bull and the murder of Chief Big Foot. For more details of this history view”