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Archive for the ‘Hosmer’s work’ Category

I need to get back in the habit of googling Harriet Hosmer more often.  I have come across two  older but interesting links in recent days.

Hosmer and an illustration of her bust Daphne is featured on the “That’s So Gay” blog, which is dedicated to gay history in the Library Company of Philadelphia collections.  The Library Company also holds the papers of the author Anne Hampton Brewster, a friend of Hosmer’s.  I loved reading through the Brewster’s letters, which contained a description of a dramatic fight Hosmer witnessed between Charlotte Cushman and her girlfriend Matilda Hayes when all three women were living together in Rome.  It was an unique insight into the life of this household.  The last post on the blog promotes the upcoming exhibit “That’s So Gay: Outing Early America,” which will run from Feb. 10-Oct.17, 2014.

Philip Kennicott’s 2011 article in the Washington Post, Art Has Yet to Face Up to Homosexuality raises important issues about the role of gay artists in our artist heritage and how that is represented or, often, hidden, in art history and museums.  I was both happy and distressed to read this sentence though: “Artists who hid their “gay” work (Charles Demuth), or stood to the side of the mainstream art world (Marsden Hartley), or are simply forgotten (a circle of artists in Italy that included Emma Stebbins, Edmonia Lewis and Harriet Hosmer) may deserve new attention and status.”  I guess I hoped my book would mean Hosmer was not-so-forgotten? 

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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.

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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.”

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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