The Numismatic Bibliomania Society


The E-Sylum: Volume 25, Number 48, November 27, 2022, Article 13


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! -Editor

MacNeil's Plaster for Coming of Dawn sculpture 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.

  MacNeil's Plaster for George Washington sculpture MacNeil's Plaster for Alexander Hamilton sculpture
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 peanuts.

  MacNeil's Plaster for Industry sculpture MacNeil's Plaster for Peace sculpture
Plasters for Industry and Peace
  MacNeil's McKinley Memorial placement

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 Père 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.

  MacNeil's Plaster for Architectural League medal obverse MacNeil's Plaster for Architectural League medal reverse
Plasters for the Architectural League medal
  MacNeil plaster MacNeil Plaster 2
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.

  MacNeil's Plaster move truck Back Home from Indiana MacNeil's Plaster move Packed in Tight
The van and its tightly-packed cargo
  MacNeil's Plaster moving crew group photo MacNeil's Plaster move In Storage at the Popp
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. -Editor

Jim adds:

MacNeil's Pony Express model "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 visit the MacNeil website, see:

To read the earlier E-Sylum article, see:

NA Sale 67 Coming E

Wayne Homren, Editor

NBS ( Web

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