Archive for Bronze Plaque
On a cold December day we took the CTA Blue Line to Jackson street and walked out of the underground on Dearborn Street at the Federal Court Building. We were just a block south of the Marquette Building which is home to Hermon MacNeil’s 1895 sculptures of 4 bronze relief panels [Cick Here] that tell the story Father Marquette explorations to Native peoples of Illinois.
We walked past the Federal Courts, then turned east toward the Art Institute of Chicago.
There sculptor Edward Kemeys’ twin bronze Lions (Mr. Defiance and Mr. Prowl) greeted us at the entrance in their Holiday regalia. They have stood guard there since 1893 when Mrs. Henry Field commissioned them.
Above is “Mister ‘In-an-Attitude-of-Defiance’,” as he rests on a Christmas package that normally is his base. The mood was festive as sixty people smiled and waited on the steps (between Mr. Prowler and Mr. Defiance) until the Museum doors were opened at 10 am.
1) Prowler and Defiance, 2)Mrs. Henry Field, and 3) Hermon MacNeil are all contemporaries of the 1893-95 era of the Chicago World’s Fair (Worlds Columbian Exposition).
Once inside we spent the morning admiring early art of Dutch and French collections. Eventually, we came opon a fovorite, Jules Adolphe Breton’s The Song of the Lark, (1884).
After some lunch in the modern art area, we went to find MacNeil’s “Sun Vow”. Here are my results.
While I could go on-and-on about this most famous of Uncle Hermon’s works, I will let my photographs speak for themselves. Enjoy!
Hermon MacNeil was the first president of the Clan MacNeil Association of America. This summer, the Galley will contain a feature article about him, written by Dan Leininger, webmaster of this website — HermonAtkinsMacNeil.com.
The previous posting of February 8, 2013, entitled, “MacNeil Kinsman ~ Hermon Atkins MacNeil and Robert Lister MacNeil,” tells part of the story of these two men.
Vicki Sanders Corporon, editor of the Galley, has accepted the article and accompanying photos that tell more of the story. She said in recent correspondence:
“Thanks for sending such excellent photos of Hermon’s sculptures. I know their inclusion, along with your article, will be the highlight of the upcoming issue! He really was one of America’s finest sculptors … how important is your mission to make sure he is fully appreciated!”
Sculpture photos of the Supreme Court (East Pediment); George Washington from the Washington Arch in NYC; Abraham Lincoln from University of Illinois; Ezra Cornell at Ithaca; Confederate Defenders Monument (1932) Charleston harbor, SC; and George Rogers Clark at Vincennes will illustrate the story.
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, the clan’s first president.
Stay tuned for more as the publication is released.
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 ]
Without Robert Thurston’s rescue, Hermon MacNeil’s first attempt at sculpture may have never survived MacNeil’s own self-critical judgement.
The story of that event was published six years later accompanying this ‘celebrative’ news story in the New York Evening Post. It recounts how Thurston saved MacNeil’s first work just as he was ready to breakup the clay piece. In so doing, Thurston nurtured the ‘tender’ confidence of his first Instructor of Art to strive as a sculptor, to study in Paris (1889-90), and eventually to win the Rinehart Scholarship (1895).
SATURDAY. DECEMBER 14, 1895.
~ A Cornell Sculptor ~
Ithaca, N. Y., Dec. 13, 1895
Hermon Atkins MacNeil, formerly Instructor in drawing here, now of Chicago, has won the Rinehart Roman prize in sculpture entitling the holder to a studio and other accommodations in the Villa Ludoviel (sic) at Rome besides $1,100 for expenses. Mr. MacNeil did his first piece of modeling at Cornell, “Putting the Shot.” from the then champion all around athlete of the university. He was about to break it up when Prof. Thurston, director of Sibley College, interposed to save it and now adorns that college. Prof. Thurston’s encouragement led Mr. MacNeil to devote himself to sculpture.
~ THURSTON ~ the CONSUMMATE ENCOURAGER
Nearly twenty-years later MacNeil would return the favor. The dedication of MacNeil’s bas-relief of Thurston at the ASME national office was held on Tuesday, February 8, 1908. All Thurston’s colleagues who spoke tributes shared their personal regard and the encouraging impact that his life left on each of them. Dr. Alex. C. Humphreys, Chairman, Member of the Society; and President of Stevens Institute of Technology gave introductory remarks describing him as a large-hearted, gentle, lovable, helpful man, a man of vision, an optimist:
“I never saw him other than cheerfully responsive to a request for help, and I was never allowed to feel that I was intruding when I went to him for counsel. While demanding respect and obedience from those under him, his attitude towards them was characterized by a sympathetic desire to be helpful.”
Mr. Wilham Kent, one of the organizers of the Society (ASME) and a close friend and co-worker with Dr. Thurston shared personal memories from his eighteen year friendship with Dr. Thurston:
“Dr. Thurston was called as the first director. No choice was ever more fortunate. I will not undertake to recount all that followed in physical development from his administration, except to say that the number of students increased from one hundred to eleven hundred, buildings grew, facilities grew, everything that his hand touched grew, and all the growth was healthy. ” … “His everpresent cheerfulness was an inspiration, and his patience was an example. There is no subtle mystery about why he was so loved and respected at Cornell, nor why he accomplished so much. His ways were ways of peace, and his achievements were a series of creative victories. He was a strong man, so strong that we honor his memory tonight. He has gone, but the influence of his life lives.” ~ Mr. Wilham Kent, Feb. 8, 1910, at Dedication of the Thurston Plaque ~
Hermon MacNeil’s three years at Cornell (1886-1889) with Professor Robert Henry Thurston shaped the rest of his sixty years of life and his entire career as a sculptor. After leaving there, MacNeil would eventually return to make four major sculptures for the University. In his will executed after his death, he ordered that all of his professional papers be left to the Cornell University Library (Division of Rare and Manuscript Collections #2425).
Of Robert H. Thurston’s thousands of career accomplishments, perhaps his quietest yet most profound, was his personal praise for Hermon MacNeil‘s sculptural talent and the confidence with which he encouraged Hermon to develop those skills in Europe and the Beaux Arts schools of Paris.
In the 1880s, Thurston was a man of vision who became a central pioneer in the developing field of Mechanical Engineering. He would soon become the first president of the newly organized American Society of Mechanical Engineers (A.S.M.E.). The faculty of Cornell brought him there to start the Sibley College of Engineering.
The bronze memorial sculpture at the right was a tribute to Thurston who died in 1903. The Cornell University, its Sibley College of Engineering and the Ithaca community conceived, subscribed and and commissioned MacNeil to sculpt this bas-relief in 1908. A duplicate of this bronze memorial was placed in New York City at the offices of the ASME. Thurston was the first president of that national engineering society.
In 1886, Hermon MacNeil was a fresh twenty year-old graduate of Boston State Normal Art School. MacNeil was then the same age as a certain carpenter named Ezra Cornell when he walked forty-one miles (in 1826) into the town of Ithaca from DeRuyter, New York. Arriving at the crest of Libe Slope (the current location of MacNeil’s statue of him), Cornell could see the town of Ithaca in the valley below. The place looked so promising as young Ezra could see manufactured goods and commodities being transferred from wagons to steamboats and barges. University history explains it this way:
At last he had come to a place, Cornell decided —before continuing down the hill, taking a boardinghouse room for the night and finding a carpentry job the next morning— where he could make something of himself. [ Cornell Engineering: A Tradition of Leadership and Innovation, p. 2. ]
Exactly sixty years later, another twenty year old was brought to Ithaca, this time by Professor Robert Thurston. MacNeil had just Graduated with first honors from the Boston State Normal Arts School (Massachusetts School of Art). This talented youth brought skills that Thurston desired all of his engineers to develop (mechanical drawing, drafting, architectural drawing, geometries, modeling and sculpting.
So Thurston hired Hermon MacNeil as Instructor of Art to teach these skills. The engineer degree required four years of these classes. Thurston wanted mechanical engineering students to know how to draw and to absorb the visual skills of a true artist.
Stay tuned for more (Part 2) on MacNeil’s first attempts at sculpting at Cornell and Professor Thurston’s vital role in affirming Hermon’s talent and future as a sculptor.
A little-known fact was discovered by a friend of this website. Hermon Atkins MacNeil served as the 1st president of the Clan MacNeil Association of America.
Jim Haas, author and College point researcher, sent a 1928 article from the Brooklyn Daily Star documenting the story. [ Brooklyn Daily Star ~ Tuesday Evening ~ May 22, 1928, Page 16, Column 1. (Image below Courtesy of Jim Haas.)]
The “MacNeil” Clans in America are a journey in history. The MacNeil Clan’s began arriving in the America before Revolutionary times.
Neil MacNeil first landed in Cape Fear River settlement in 1735. He brought 350 followers with him leaving their home land on the island of Barra in the Hebides. Most were clan members. Several more shiploads of Scots were to follow under Neil MacNeil’s leadership.
Check this Link to “Clan MacNeil” website and a list of over 100 ‘septs’ (variations or of the name “MacNeil” within the clan).
The news article (inserted at right) tells of a 1928 unveiling and dedication of a bronze plaque designed by MacNeil and placed on the campus of Flora MacDonald College in Red Springs, NC. In 1958 that college merged with St. Andrews Presbyterian College in Laurinburg, NC to become St. Andrews Collalso toldege and in 2010 the name was changed to St. Andrews University.
Flora MacDonald Academy (a K-12 private preparatory school) remains in Red Springs. Presumably, the MacNeil Memorial plaque placed on a granite boulder remains there on that campus and garden. CLICK HERE for a history of both schools.
A visit in May 2012 to Laurinburg found St. Andrews University on a beautiful 800 acre barrier free campus. (Photos coming in later posting) Appropriately, this area is in “Scotland” County. The Scottish Heritage Center resides in it’s own building on campus. Passed the center a massive sculpture of “The Scot” greets visitors. Clearly, the area marks the territory of a proud people. Clan MacNeil Association of America claims a proud history both in Scotland and the Americas.
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Clan MacNeil Association of America