I am late in posting this, but my presentation for the event at the Renee and Chaim Gross Foundation is on YouTube. It’s a little blurry, but my voice, elfin as it is, comes through loud and clear.
Archive for the ‘Hosmer’s work’ Category
Ragged Isle is a great, creepy webseries that began this month. It is a mystery that takes place on island off the coast of Maine and, in the three episodes that have been posted so far, the tension has been mounting and questions adding up. I’ve posted part I below and the rest can be found on the show’s youtube channel.
Hosmer spent some time in Maine in her later life, visiting her old friend Cornelia Crow Carr, who had a house in Bar Harbor. One summer a poem titled “Bar Harbor” appeared in the New York World, describing the activities of those spending time in the resort. The stanza on Hosmer read: While Harriet Hosmer, shut up in her den/ Has laid down the chisel, assuming the pen/ And is writing a book on a subject so queer–/Well–no–I won’t blab–as it soon will appear.” The poem continues to sing the praises of Bar Harbor: “Then the air of the mountain/ The air of the pint/ The air of the ocean, their fragrance combine/ And lend to Bar Harbor such wonderful charm/ That Newport and Lenox start back in alarm.”
The height of Harriet Hosmer’s career was in the 1850s and ’60s, before she turned 40. Her decline in popularity in later years came about for a variety of reasons, including changing American tastes after the Civil War, changes in Rome after Italian unification, and the attention Hosmer devoted to her relationship with Louisa, Lady Ashburton. But another reason was that Hosmer turned much of her creative energy to her attempts to create a perpetual motion machine. She was not alone in the endeavor–many other people were attempting to the same thing. But Hosmer spent decades on this project, eventually proclaiming, ” I would rather have my fame rest upon the discovery of perpetual motion than upon my achievement in art.” Some of her friends were less than enthusiastic; the Irish reformer and author Frances Power Cobbe bemoaned the fact that “She was lured away from sculpture by some invention of her own of a mechanical kind over which many years of her life have been lost.”
One of my happiest moments as a researcher came when I found the drawings of the invention Hosmer had submitted to the British Patent Office at the New York Public Library’s Science and Industry branch. I had gone in the hopes of learning how I would go about contacting the British Patent Office to begin a search. But I lucked into asking a very knowledgeable, very helpful librarian, who knew the library held the patent office’s Official Journal, which includes the descriptions and illustrations submitted with patents. It took him a while to find them, as they had been miscataloged, but he finally dug out the volumes I needed, which clearly no one had looked at in decades. They were covered with dust. While I had read her descriptions of the machine, it was amazing to see illustrations of them. I couldn’t believe the information was right here in the New York.
The patent below is the one she submitted in 1881.
On March 27 at 2:o0 PM, I will giving the Women’s History Month talk at the Larchmont Historical Society. (It is free to members and $5 for non-members) I’m particularly excited about this as Larchmont is home to Hosmer’s fountain The Mermaid’s Cradle. Louisa, Lady Ashburton, first ordered this fountain for her garden in her home, Melchet Court, located in Hampshire, England. Ashburton was Hosmer’s great love, who she referred to as her wife or her “sposa,” and she was also an important patron for the artist. I believe the face of the mermaid is meant to be a portrait of Asbhurton, and the fountain, in which a mermaid holds her infant in her tail, is a tribute to Ashburton’s fierce love for her daughter, Maysie. Helena Flint, whose father had helped establish Larchmont as a summer colony, saw the work while visiting Hosmer’s studio in Rome. Larchmont had recently incorporated into a village, and Flint thought the fountain would be the perfect centerpiece for the village park. The village in fact redesigned the park and renamed it Fountain Square. Hosmer’s work became a symbol of the town and was often featured on postcards. A few years ago, I purchased one on E-Bay. Below see a slideshow of the postcard, some snaps I took of the fountain when I visited a few years ago, and a portrait of Ashburton.
I had a wonderful time at the Poets in Nassau talk on Feb. 22. Thank you to everyone who came out. It was a great group, which held an open reading after my talk. I’m ashamed to say I had no idea Long Island had such a lively poetry scene. I discussed Hosmer’s relationship with Elizabeth Barrett and Robert Browning, who were early supporters of the artist. (Virginia Woolf even mentions Hosmer in Flush, her biography of Elizabeth’s dog, a book I highly recommend.) I also discussed some poetry Hosmer herself wrote, including the The Doleful Ditty of the Roman Caffe Grecco. Hosmer published this poem in New York Evening Post in 1864, while she was defending herself against accusations that her stonecutters were responsible for her work. (They did do the actual carving, as was the case in the Roman studios of most of the American artists in Italy). The Caffe Grecco, which still exists, was a popular gathering point for expatriates in Rome. In this poem, Hosmer mocks male sculptors who claim women artists are stealing their thunder, depicting them as lazy gossips. Early in the poem, one male artist proclaims, “‘Tis time my friend we cogitate/ And make some desperate stand/ or else our sister artists here/will drive us from this land.” Eventually one man rises to defend the women, noting “Suppose you try another plan/ More worthy of art and you:/ Suppose you give them for their works/ The credit which is due/ And honest and kindly word/ If spoken now and then/ Would prove what seems a doubtful point/ You could at least be men.” That last line got a big laugh.
The photos below are by Lorraine Conlin, who also hosted the event, read a lovely poem herself, and gave me a ride to the train station afterwards. The sculpture I am holding is a reproduction of Hosmer’s Hands of the Brownings, which can be purchased at the gift shop of the Metropolitan Museum of art.
Just a reminder that I will be discussing Harriet Hosmer at the Watertown Free Public Library tomorrow night (January 6) at 7:30 PM. The library owns several Harriet Hosmer sculptures and some other artifacts, including her sculpting tools. I’ve included a slideshow of some of the artifacts below; the image that serves as the header of this blog was taken in the library’s special collections reading room.
On December 26, 1896, Harriet Hosmer wrote one of the loveliest thank you notes I have read to Cornelia Crow Carr. Carr and Hosmer had gone to the Sedgwick School together in Lenox, Massachusetts, and by 1896 they had been the closest of friends for 5 decades.
The precious box came safely yesterday afternoon all in time for Christmas and laden with all the precious things my precious had the loving thought to send me–never in 50 years have you failed my precious friend to remember me on Christmas Day–Wherever I am your love and ceaseless goodness follow me–far and near the loving thoughts stretch out to me on Christmas Day–yes and all days.
And then all the pretty gifts are so useful–the very things I want. That is the charm of a gift–not only its usefulness but the thought that absent friend is so much a part of yourself that she knows exactly of what you are thinking and what wishing for–again my precious I thank you for the lovely gift . . .
This letter inspires me to put more effort into my thank you notes this year–certainly to do more than fire off an e-mail.
Yesterday, I visited the Metropolitan Museum with some old friends. I had always hoped the Met gift shop would carry Harriet Hosmer: A Cultural Biography, as the museum collections include Hosmer’s Daphne and one of her Clasped Hands of Robert and Elizabeth Barrett Browning. The store even sells a replica of the Brownings’ hands. I was thrilled when I did find in on the shelves; it was the first time I have physically seen the book for sale somewhere. Below is a picture of me, the book, and my young buddy Ben; Frida Kahlo looks a little skeptical of us all.
One of the main themes in my biography of Hosmer is the ways she and her supporters shaped her image to make her acceptable to her nineteenth-century audience. As part of this project, Hosmer made sure never to seem too ambitious or angry in public. But in private letters a different picture sometimes emerges. When she was in contention for the commission to sculpt a memorial to Missouri senator Thomas Hart Benton, for instance, she reveled in the thought of “collapsing the flues” of her competitors in Rome with the news of her victory. When she did win, she reported that her friend Shakespeare Wood regretted one particularly jealous contemporary was out of town so Wood wouldn’t get to witness “his horrid grin of anguish” at the news. Of course, Hosmer eventually took what she called the “wise & prudent” route of gracious acceptance. Still the snarkiness was there, and therefore I think she would have really liked author Anita Liberty’s new line of Fair Anger Jewelry. Simple and lovely pendant necklaces come with themes such as Confidence: Imbues with the confidence to knowledge to know you are, in fact, always right. And Contentment: Amplifies your feelings of superiority and self confidence. Hosmer, ever confident, would have coveted that one, I believe.
The Museum of Fine Arts, Boston opened its new Art of the Americas wing last week. Which is good news for any fan of Harriet Hosmer, because Hosmer’s Sleeping Faun is now once again on display, in the Penny and Jeff Vinik Gallery. It was donated to the museum by Cornelia Crow Carr, Hosmer’s life-long friend, in 1912. You can see an interview, and some good footage of the collections, with the museum’s director here. I can’t wait to visit.