As mentioned a couple weeks ago, James Haas and a crew of helpers
transported several plasters of Hermon Atkins MacNeil's works to a new home. It was MacNeil who modeled the Standing Liberty Quarter and other numismatic products. Here's his report on the historic trip. Thanks!
The August, 1917 issue of the The American Architect included an article titled
Waste in Art, The writer quoted Hermon Atkins MacNeil's recent address before the American Federation of Arts during which he suggested the establishment of a gallery in Washington where plaster casts of the best American work in sculpture could be permanently assembled for the purpose of study. The Sculpture Gallery in the City Art Museum in St. Louis had collected
a handsome collection by securing sculptors' plasters that had served their purpose. While these represented works that totaled more than a million dollars, they were acquired practically without cost.
Fast forward to October 1948 when the Corcoran Gallery of Art in Washington D.C. decided to
clean up its cellar. By offering its collection of 60 plasters to the District schools, students were
provided the opportunity to study great works of art. Many were scooped up.
In the spring of that year, the Sheldon Swope Gallery in Terre Haute, IN had asked for some,
perhaps inspired by its recent gift of eighteen of MacNeil's plaster models donated by his widow,
Cecelia Muench MacNeil. The works were put in storage where they remained for the next 75 years.
MacNeil had moved to the tiny enclave of College Point in Queens, NY in 1902, and for 30 of
his 45 years there, served on the Board of the village's Poppenhusen Institute. In 2011 Daniel Neil
Leininger, a MacNeil family descendant, had founded a website,
devoted to all things MacNeil. He informed Poppenhusen Institute leadership that the Swope had the
plasters in storage and was willing to give selected pieces to them.
For more than a decade the cost of transport to College Point was prohibitive. Learning that
the space where the plasters were stored was to be repurposed, the plasters destroyed, and
MacNeil's works lost to the world, it was an easy decision for current Poppenhusen Institute Board
member Charles Chiclacos and I to agree to use our own funds in order to rescue them, no mean
feat. To that end we rented a U-Haul van and on November 14th , began a 1,700-mile-round-trip-
odyssey from College Point to Terre Haute then back to College Point three days later.
Plasters for George Washington
and Alexander Hamilton
A few, very few of the thirteen pieces were relatively light, but the statues, five in number, one
of them George Washington, averaged 42 in height and weighed seemingly nearly a ton each, but in
reality, weighed at least enough to be a challenge to the combined weight-lifting abilities of we two
septuagenarians. Two models, Industry and Peace for the McKinley Memorial in Columbus, Ohio
were smaller, but cumbersome. All had to be swaddled in layers of bubble wrap, secured by heavy
duty, tightly wound plastic wrap, placed securely in the van then cushioned by bags of packing
Plasters for Industry
The plasters, all of them intact, are now once again in storage at the Poppenhusen Institute, a
three-story building that was dedicated in 1868, designated a New York City landmark in 1970, and in
1973, listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The models will remain in storage until some
necessary renovations are complete. Installation and dedication are in the future, but before that can
take place, cleaning and conservation will have to be undertaken. The Institute already has four
MacNeil works, Portland's Coming of the White Man, Chicago's PÃ¨re Marquette, The Conrad
Poppenhusen Medal and a work by Carol Brooks MacNeil titled War Babies. With the addition of the
rescued plasters, and the donation of my research used in the writing of Hermon Atkins MacNeil:
American Sculptor in the Broad, Bright Daylight, it is my hope that the Poppenhusen Institute, not
quite a gallery in Washington, DC, will become the go-to place for the general public to see the largest
collection of his works, and a haven for anyone wanting to do research on MacNeil.
Plasters for the Architectural League
MacNeil's Architectural League of New York Medal
For those who might wish to make a donation, the Poppenhusen Institute is a 501(c) (3) tax
exempt organization. The address is 11404 14th Road, College Point, NY 11356. Make your check
payable to "Conrad Poppenhusen Association" and mark your check: Plasters Cleaning & Conservation. Thank you.
The van and its tightly-packed cargo
Moving crew and cargo in storage at the Poppenhusen Institute
Swope Museum's Indispensable Jim, Yours Truly, Swope Curator Amy MacLennan, and Charlie Chiclacos
A great adventure - thanks!
Please do consider making a donation, everyone! This is interesting numismatic history.
To visit the MacNeil website, see:
"We came upon this model just moments before departure. It was his plaster for the Pony Express figure that was destined for St. Joseph, MO. I was totally unaware it was in the Swope Museum, and was not included on the list of those we brought back to College Point. I later learned the museum had other plans for it, one of MacNeil's favorite works.
Sidebar story. Like many towns, villages and cities, the streets in College Point are presently in disarray due to the installation of much-needed new sewer pipes. As a result, the most harrowing part of the journey was driving on one of two possible streets to the Institute. One was bad, the one we chose was very bad. Charlie and I had packed the plasters as securely as we could separating them with plastic bags filled with packing peanuts. Each time we went over a bump or drove over a pot hole, they swayed forward and backward and/or side to side. Plaster is fragile; our hearts were in our throats. When we stopped to check status, winds blew peanuts out the door, given their freedom when the bags exploded. It was a hoot. All's well that ends well. Everything arrived in good shape other than what had happened to them over seventy-five years."
To read the earlier E-Sylum article, see:
HERMON MACNEIL PLASTERS ON THE MOVE
Wayne Homren, Editor
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