Archive for Friends of Hermon MacNeil
The Musee d’Orsay in the center of Paris was originally built as the railroad station for the Universal Exposition of 1900. MacNeil and his contemporary sculptors exhibited and received prizes in that competition.
It now is a Museum. Sculptures made by MacNeil’s teachers are a part of the exhibits. MacNeil had many teachers in Paris at the Ecole Des Beau Arts. Below are the signatures of A [Alexandre] Falguiere and H [Henri] Chapu from two of their marble sculptures.
Alexandre Falguiere (1831 – 1900)
Falguiere’s sculpture of Tarcisius was completed in 1867 when MacNeil was just 1 year old.
Henri Chapu (1833-1891)
Another art work of Hermon A. MacNeil has emerged through the kindnesses of the Orr family and the attraction of this website — namely, a beautiful portrait bust of Hermon MacNeil’s physician, Dr. Francis G. Reilly.
Pat Orr send the information about his MacNeil painting of “Dave Blue” as presented in my previous posting. He was also kind enough to ask his brother, Tim Orr, to send some photos of another Hermon MacNeil creation that has been in their family (for almost) five generations.
Pat sent the following request to Tim:
Dan has a website dedicated to the life and works of his uncle H.A. MacNeil. I have the oil painting of Dave Blue Who Lived Under the Ground and you have the bronze bust of Daddy Boy (Grandma’s father, Dr. Francis Reilly). Could you email him some pics. See his directions below. He wants to add the discoveries of his uncle’s work to his website and possibly a book as well.
Tim sent several photos of the bust of “Daddy Boy,” as the family has called their heirloom piece. Enhanced profile and frontal views are posted here.
Pat also included some tidbits of family history he gathered in his “MacNeil detective work:’
I have a few more details of interesting information for you. I spoke with my mother and she said H A MacNeil was a neighbor of my great grandparents in the Catskills. They had a summer house there, and he had one down the road. Apparently, my great grandfather was his doctor. In fact, H A did a bronze bust of my great grandfather which my brother has now at his house. …
In terms of the home in upstate New York called “Bittersweet” I don’t know what happened to that. I imagine it was sold at some point along the way. That was way before my time. I was born in Washington, D.C. in 1970.
Did you ever meet your uncle, or you just know him by way of photographs?
Tim provided additional interesting family details not mentioned before:
As I understand the story, the bust was compensation to my GG (sic: great-grandfather) for medical services rendered…but that could just be a story. The medallion was either a gift or he may have purchased it, or could have been compensation also. As an aside, the vacation home in Liberty NY is now under water, a part of a reservoir network in that area I believe.
The idea of “compensation” (barter) makes sense in that era and in Hermon MacNeil’s history of doing that with Inn-keepers in his early years of travel in Italy and Paris .
Thanks to Pat and Tim Orr for sharing heir family history and treasures. They give us insight into Hermon A. MacNeil and their own family
WHO IS DAVE BLUE ?
Another mystery oil painting entitled “Dave Blue,” has surfaced through an inquiry on this website. The work is signed, “H. A. MacNeil SC” in two places.
Patrick Orr wrote from Connecticut,
“IS IT POSSIBLE THAT I HAVE A PAINTING BY H.A. MACNEIL?”
Patrick included several photos from which the detail at your right enlargement below were taken.
In our ongoing correspondence, I explained to Patrick the following:
A. MacNeil often placed the letters “SC” after his signature on works meaning “Sculptor.” This was his standard manner of signing his works. Interesting that he did so to an oil painting as well. See numerous examples on the masthead photos on my website.
B. MacNeil is known to have painted oils. Mostly for fun or gifts. My mother had an oil painting as a wedding gift that he gave her in 1929.
C. You have a unique and interesting piece. Just on the basis of looking at the pictures, I would say there is little reason to doubt that this piece is what it claims to be.
D. I doubt that a forger would bother to make a fake “MacNeil” oil painting.
E. Hermon would sketch when he went places or saw interesting people. He had an artists eye.
I asked Patrick where he got the work:
“The painting belonged to my grandparents, and when they died I asked my uncle if I could have it. I always liked it. I have no idea how they acquired it.”
“My grandparents and their grandparents are from the lower west side of Manhattan. In the 1970s my grandparents moved to CT. I don’t remember any stories unfortunately, but I will ask my mother. They definitely treasured it. Everybody always commented on it.”
“Who was Dave Blue? Did he live in a cave? Was he blind? Was he a freed slave or son of slaves? A mystery and so very intriguing.”
SO, Pat Orr agreed that I could post his “MacNeil Mystery” on my website. The next day another email arrived from Patrick:
“I have some interesting information for you. I spoke with my mother and she said H A MacNeil was a neighbor of my great grandparents in the Catskills. They had a summer house there, and he had one down the road. Apparently, my great grandfather was his doctor. In fact, H A did a bronze bust of my great grandfather which my brother has now at his house. The painting I have was a gift he gave to them.
… Unfortunately, my mom doesn’t know about the history or background of the painting itself. She doesn’t know when or where it was done.”
That fits in with the sticker on the back of the canvas being from a New York art supplier. I can imagine him picking up the canvas in New York, and then taking it with him on his travels and using it to do the study of the old black man.”
SO, the intriging “MacNeil Mystery” remains:
“Dave Blue who lived under the ground.”
Who was Dave Blue?
Did he live in the ground?
Was he blind?
Was he a freed slave or son of slaves?
Maybe we will get responses from other painting owners.
Maybe “Mr. Blue” has some relatives out there.
THANKS PAT, for making us curious.
We celebrate “MacNeil Month” each February. This February 27, 2014 marks the 148th anniversary of the birth of our patron sculptor, Hermon Atkins MacNeil. During MacNeil Month 2014 here at HermonAtkinsMacNeil.com , we will share some biography of Hermon A. MacNeil gleaned from my “search for ‘Uncle Hermon’.”
Hermon Atkins MacNeil ~American Sculptor
MacNeil Clan history, like all family history, is filled with people we have never met. One MacNeil who has always fascinated me is Hermon Atkins MacNeil. Researching “Uncle” Hermon has also led me to another amazing man, Robert Lister MacNeil. Both men were present when the Clan MacNeil Association of America was formed ninety-three years ago.
On May 26, 1921, the Clan MacNeil Association of America was organized in New York City. Central to that moment were Robert Lister MacNeil, (The MacNeil of Barra – 45th Chief of the Clan), and Hermon Atkins MacNeil, a sculptor, who served as the clan’s first president. At that time, Robert Lister was 32 years of age, a practicing architect in New York City, and a veteran of the First World War. He had succeeded to the chiefship of the Clan MacNeil just six years earlier. His dreams of the Isle of Barra and restoring Kisimul Castle (as told in his book The Castle in the Sea) were but faint hopes that would await decades and the efforts of many MacNeils for their accomplishment.
His other kinsman was Hermon Atkins MacNeil. Hermon was the older of the two, an accomplished sculptor, also practicing in New York City, he had already created a myriad of statues, sculptures, monuments, as well as, the U.S. Standing Liberty Quarter first minted in 1916. Although these two MacNeils were 23 years apart in age, they were both trained in Paris at the Ecole des Beaux Arts, a school for architects and sculptors in the Classic Greco-Roman styles. A lasting bond between them formed through their shared artistic talents, professional skills, and years of Clan MacNeil activity.
Hermon MacNeil designed a bronze plaque that was unveiled and dedicated on May 28, 1928 on the campus of Flora MacDonald College in Red Springs, NC. The plaque commemorated the 1735 landing of Neil MacNeil of Jura, Scotland with 350 followers. This group made up mostly of clan members landed at the Cape Fear Settlement in North Carolina. The plaque was placed on a red granite stone and marked another clan project shared by these two men.
In his later years, Robert Lister stated: “Hermon was an outstanding sculptor and one of my dearest friends all the rest of his life.” In 1970, six years after publishing those words, Robert Lister MacNeil died at the age of 81. Twenty-three years earlier (in 1947), Hermon Atkins MacNeil had died, also at the same age of 81. All of the above was discovered as I “searched for Uncle Hermon.” I never met either of these two MacNeil men. The more I learn of them both, the more striking I find the parallels in their lives.
Upcoming: MacNeil Roots and Pursuits
Last summer I received an email from Linette Porter-Metler of the Mount Vernon and Knox County Library of Mount Vernon, Ohio. She enclosed the photos you see below.
Linette entitled her email, “DO WE HAVE ONE?” Here is what she said:
Thanks for your website!
We are a four-library public library system in Central Ohio. All year, we have been celebrating our 125th Anniversary here as a public library in Mount Vernon, Ohio, and during our research we found that one of our sculptures donated to us in 1936 by a Dr. Freeman Ward may be one of The Chief of the Multnomah statues shown on your site. But it does have some differences as you can see by the photo compared to the one on your site at the New York museum.
Ours does not seem to have a number stating it was one of the copies (i.e. 4/20)..All it has is his name, the word “Multnomah”, and the number “03” etched on the side of his footrest. I will send photos. Also, there is a copper? Twisted piece at top of bow near his shoulder.
I will enclose as many photos as I can. If you have any further information to share with us about this, we would appreciate it!
Linette Porter-Metler, Community Relations / Public Affairs, Public Library of Mount Vernon and Knox County, 201 N. Mulberry Street, Mount Vernon, OHIO
YES, MT. VERNON,
YOU HAVE ONE !
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 ]