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Friday, February 22, 2008

Powers' Sculpture of George Washington

Having celebrated Lincoln’s birthday last week with views of statues of Lincoln created by New England sculptor Daniel Chester French, we celebrate Washington’s Birthday with another New England sculptor immortalizing George Washington.

Hiram Powers, originally from Woodstock, Vermont, had a studio in Florence, Italy where he was part of a generation of American sculptors whose celebrity became part of the post-Civil War art world. Among his works are a series of busts in honor of great men, and his neoclassical image of George Washington is part of the collection at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City.

Many, of not most bronze sculptures made in 19th Century America were founded in Chicopee, Massachusetts, first at the bronze foundry of the Ames Manufacturing Company, and later at Chicopee Bronze Works, which was established by founder and sculptor Melzar Mosman, who had once apprenticed under his father Silas Mosman at the Ames Company.

The above photo is a working model of Powers’ Washington sculpture, with as elusive a history as the enigmatic Washington himself. Donated by Melzar Mosman to the Chicopee Public Library upon its opening in 1913, information on the origins of the bust and its sculptor became lost throughout the following decades. This important artifact of a celebrated period of American art history was unknowingly relegated to the periodicals room where gentleman perusing the newspapers and magazines would sometimes casually plop their hats on George’s head, using him as a hat rack.

It took the detective efforts of Chicopee reference librarian Annette Delude and Donna Hassler, a research associate at New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art in 1987 to discover the name of the sculptor, Hiram Powers.

The valuable model has since been restored and put in a protective glass case, still at home on display at the new Chicopee Public Library, but now free from the indignity of being used as a hat rack.

For more information on the career of Hiram Powers, have a look at this website.

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