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~ This Gallery celebrates Hermon Atkins MacNeil,  of the Beaux Arts School American classic sculptor of Native images and American history.  ~ World’s Fairs, statues, monuments, coins, and more… ~ Hot-links ( lower right) lead to works by Hermon A. MacNeil.   ~ Over 200 of stories & 2,000 photos form this virtual MacNeil Gallery stretching east to west  New York to New Mexico ~ Oregon to S. Carolina.   ~ 2021 marks the 155th Anniversary of Hermon MacNeil’s birth. ~~Do you WALK or DRIVE by MacNeil sculptures DAILY!   ~~ CHECK it OUT!

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Archive for Supreme Court Building

When the Supreme Court justices considered whether the Ten Commandments could be displayed on government property, they did so under the watchful eyes of none other than Hermon MacNeil’sMoses“. This ironic observation was made in 2005 by Andrea James in a Religious News Service article entitled:  “In the Supreme Court itself, Moses and his law on display”  ( published March 3, 2005 at http://www.christianindex.org/1087.article ). 

Three great law makers ~ Moses (center) flanked by Confucius (left) and Solon (right) ~ represent three great world cultures ~ (Judeo-Christian, Eastern Asian, Greco-Roman)

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 )

MacNeil's sculptures of Moses, Confucius, and Solon on the East Pediment of the Supreme Court Building in Washington, D.C.

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/ )

 

SuprCtEastPedMosesConfSolonHeader

CONFUCIUS ~ MOSES ~ SOLON center on MacNeil’s East Pediment

The East Pediment of the Supreme Court of the United States designed and sculpted by Hermon A. MacNeil contains the likenesses of three Lawgivers from the history of  civilization: Moses, Confucius, and Solon. According to the Office of the Curator in a public INFORMATION SHEET:

“Visitors often miss the East Pediment of the Supreme Court Building because it is located at the rear of the building. This sculptural group was designed by Hermon A. MacNeil (1866 – 1947), an artist who studied under the masters of classical architecture and design. Cass Gilbert (1867 – 1934), the building’s architect, worked closely with MacNeil from 1932 to 1934 to create the thirteen symmetrically balanced allegorical figures. MacNeil submitted the following description of his work to the Supreme Court Building Commission:”

“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.

  • Moses, Confucius and Solon are chosen as representing three great civilizations and form the central group of this Pediment.
  • Flanking this central group – left – is the symbolical figure bearing the means of enforcing the law. On the right a group tempering justice with mercy, allegorically treated. The “Youth” is brought into both these groups to suggest the “Carrying on” of civilization through the knowledge imbibed of right and wrong.

The next two figures with shields;

  • Left – The settlement of disputes between states through enlightened judgment.
  • Right – Maritime and other large functions of the Supreme Court in protection of the United States.

The last figures:

May 16, 1932 Note regarding the East Pediment Inscription The text, in the hand of Charles Evans Hughes, reads, I rather prefer “Justice the Guardian of Liberty”

The inscription on the East Pediment – Justice the Guardian of Liberty – is one of the few decisions regarding the architecture of the building that was made directly by one of the Justices. On May 2,1932, David Lynn, the Architect of the Capitol, sent Chief Justice Charles Evans Hughes a letter with Cass Gilbert’s suggestions for the East and West Pediment inscriptions. The Chief Justice agreed with the suggested inscription for the West Pediment, Equal Justice Under Law, but did not like the one proposed for the East Pediment, Equal Justice is the Foundation of Liberty. Chief Justice Hughes sent a note (below) with a suggestion for a different inscription to Justice Willis Van Devanter, the only Justice beside Hughes and his predecessor, Chief Justice William Howard Taft, to serve on the Supreme Court Building Commission. Justice Van Devanter responded with a succinct reply: “Good (W.V.)” A few days later, the Chief Justice formally answered Lynn’s request by providing the alternate inscription, stating simply “We think that the inscription for the East Portico can be improved.”

The May 16, 1932 Note regarding the East Pediment Inscription written in the hand of Charles Evans Hughes, reads, I rather prefer “Justice the Guardian of Liberty”

The East Pediment by Hermon A. MacNeil – Office of the Curator • Supreme Court of the United States

Source: Office of the Curator, Supreme Court of the United States – Updated: 5/22/2003

For additional critical discussion on the Supreme Court Building sculptures related to Moses as a law giver see:

http://www.snopes.com/politics/religion/capital.asp

Visit the HA MacNeil‘s “Justice The Guardian of Liberty” at the East Pediment of the Supreme Court Building in Washington, D.C. [mappress]

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.

HARE ON LEFT<< East Pediment-Supreme Court Building - >>TORTOISE ON RIGHT

MacNeil's 'Hare' springs from the south corner of his east pediment sculpture

MacNeil's 'Tortoise' on the north corner of sculpture

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!  😉

The Supreme Court as it appeared in 1935 complete with vintage automobiles. The East Pediment was on the reverse side to these front steps. Behind MacNeil's East pediment sculptures is the office of the Chief Justice. Source: Wikipedia

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:SupremeCourt-1935.jpg

WHAT YOU FIND HERE.

Here is ONE place to go to see sculpture of Hermon A. MacNeil & his students. Located in cities from east to west coast, found indoors and out, public and private, these creations point us toward the history and values that root Americans.

Daniel Neil Leininger ~ HAMacNeil@gmail.com
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