Archive for January, 2012
At each corner of the East Pediment of the U.S. Supreme Court Building, Hermon MacNeil placed the figures of a ‘tortoise’ and a ‘hare.’ His local newspaper (“Brooklyn Daily Star”) carried the story below on the MacNeil’s 67th Birthday, February 27, 1933.
The greater figures (Moses, Confucius, and Solon [not Plato]) received more publicity and scrutiny. Some questioned that placement as making some ‘religious’ statement (See previous Posting of Jan 13th, 2012).
MacNeil’s use of the little symbolic animals so familiar to readers of Aesop’s Fables (children’s readings from a century ago) may seem quaint in 21st Century media, but provide an appropriate allegorical meaning and use of confined ‘space.’
Also see previous story on this website at:
Of further note in the “Brooklyn Daily Star” article is the reference to Alden MacNeil. He was Hermon and Carol’s younger son. Whether he worked ‘for’ Cass Gilbert or ‘with’ the famous architect is unclear. I suspect the later. Either way being “associated” with Cass Gilbert the renowned architectural firm on the Supreme Court Building project is a significant point of the story.
While it seems difficult to NOT associate ‘religious connotations’ with representations of ‘Moses,’ wherever they may be, MacNeil’s interpretation of his sculpture is quoted as follows:
MacNeil didn’t intend his sculptures to have religious connotations. Explaining his work, MacNeil wrote, “Law as an element of civilization was normally and naturally derived or inherited in this country from former civilizations. The ‘Eastern Pediment’ of the Supreme Court Building suggests therefore the treatment of such fundamental laws and precepts as are derived from the East.” ( http://architecture.about.com/od/greatbuildings/ss/SupremeCourt_7.htm )
Moses appears as the central figure on the Supreme Court building’s east side holding two stone tablets. The pediment was started in 1932 and completed in 1934. Cass Gilbert was the building architect. He and MacNeil collaborated in 1904 of the Saint Louis Art Museum built as the “Palace of Fine Arts” for the World’s Fair known as the ‘Louisiana Purchase Exposition.”
In her 2005 news article, Andrea James reports multiple appearances of ‘Moses’ in the building housing the last final option for appeals in the U.S. Judiciary Branch of government:
“The Jewish lawgiver is depicted several times in the stone and marble edifice that is the Supreme Court building, and so are the Ten Commandments. In sculpture, Moses sits as the prominent figure atop the building’s east side, holding two tablets representing the Ten Commandments. And on the wall directly behind the chief justice’s chair, an allegorical “Majesty of Law” places his muscular left arm on a tablet depicting the Roman numerals I through X.
Believers are convinced those are indeed the commandments given to Moses as described in the biblical Book of Exodus. Others say the 10 numbers represent the Bill of Rights.”
Regardless of past or future discussions the Supreme Court Building and the implied connotations of the presence of ‘Moses’ depicted there, MacNeil used multiple figures representing a diversity of cultures. These various traditions of laws written on tablets, scrolls or parchment are used throughout the Building.
In addition, this practice is consistent with the plans of Thomas Jefferson, George Washington and patterns used in other government buildings, including the U. S. Capitol Building with its Classic temple architecture.
“In 1792, Thomas Jefferson and Thomas Johnson placed of an advertisement announcing a Capitol architectural contest in a Philadelphia newspaper. The ad contained rules and requirements for size and numbers of rooms and such. The judges of the competition were George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, and Commissioners of the District of Colombia. The philosopher Jefferson, a classically educated man like many of the founders, saw in temple designs like the Temple of the Sun, the Parthenon and the Roman Pantheon a symbolism of democracy and philosophy resurrected.
Jefferson, Washington and the committee thought that the new capitol building(s) should symbolize a Temple of Liberty in a secular sense. Entries were mostly Renaissance or Georgian, which is based on Palladian, a classical revival style of the renaissance. But the Graeco-Roman modeled entries were the most liked by the Washington, Jefferson, and the committee. The committee took the symbolic nature of the Capitol seriously. For the committee, the design must symbolize the functions and themes of the capitol.”
For more of the plans and drawings presented in the Library of Congress online exhibits see: ( http://community-2.webtv.net/westernmind/WASHINGTONDC/ )
Happy 2012 from the Friends of Hermon Atkins MacNeil!
On Christmas Eve Day I had the pleasure of having breakfast in Kansas City, Missouri with Mr. Gibson Shell, one of Hermon’s biggest fans.
No stranger to HermonAtkinsMacNeil.com “Gib’s” photos and postcards have graced our pages for the last year.
Neither is he a stranger to those of you who frequent Coins Shows in the KC MO region and beyond.
Gib is an avid photographer and collector of Beaux Arts images (photos, postcards, souvenirs). Gib has documented what he calls ‘MacNeil’s French Connection,’ namely, the works of Chapu and Falguière, MacNeil’s teachers in Paris. Gib has gathered Sculptor Studies in MORE than a dozen Notebooks.
I enjoyed my tour through his Hermon MacNeil Notebook he is holding in this photo. MacNeil studied at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts and at the Julien Academy as a pupil of Henri M. Chapu and Alexandre Falguière. Gib has an extensive collection of French postcards of their sculptures that MacNeil would have known and been influenced by.
I also was able to enjoy his Notebook of Daniel Chester French’s sculptures. (French’s “Minuteman” statue at Concord elevated him into public prominence in 1875 at the tender age of 25. His seated ‘Lincoln’ in the Lincoln Monument is his most famous work. French was on the Roman Rinehart Committee that awarded to Hermon MacNeil the first Rinehart scholarship in 1895. He also worked with MacNeil on the Columbian Exposition of 1893 in Chicago. See Gib’s photos below of D. C. French’s “Republic” statue from the Fair ).
Next time I can see some of Gib’s other notebooks on Beaux Arts sculptors. I wanted you to see this “friend of Hermon Atkins MacNeil and HermonAtkinsMacNeil.com”
Thanks Gib for being a contributor! He sent this photo of Daniel Chester French’s “Republic” to herald in 2012. So once more:
We discovered that Gib lives 6 blocks from where my “Aunt Jane” McNeil Boody lived in Kansas City. Jane and my mother, Ollie Frances McNeil both called Hermon MacNeil, “Uncle Hermon” all their lives.