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Luce Foundation Center for American Art

Sculpture: 19th century: Anna Hazard Barker Ward
Hiram Powers

Hiram Powers

(born Woodstock, VT 1805 -- died Florence, Italy 1873)

Learn more about Hiram Powers 4.9MB

"I see art as the vehicle of nature and the artist as the collector of nature’s truths and beauties." Hiram Powers, 1850, in Richard P. Wunder, Hiram Powers, 1989-91

Hiram Powers was one of the first American artists to achieve international recognition, and through his fame, helped to elevate the role of sculpture in nineteenth-century America. Growing up on a farm in Woodstock, Vermont, he had never seen a statue, but frequently dreamed of a female figure standing on a pillar---a vision that was to haunt him throughout his life. In 1818 his family moved to Cincinnati. His father died soon after their arrival, however, and Powers left home to seek his fortune. His first experience in portraiture came through working in a hotel, where he created silhouette cutouts of visitors. A few years later, he created a stir at the local museum by mechanically animating wax figures so that they appeared to be alive. He enrolled at Cincinnati’s Academy of Fine Arts in 1828 and attracted the attention of a local patron, Nicholas Longworth, who encouraged Powers to travel to Washington in pursuit of his career. In Washington, the artist modeled a portrait of President Andrew Jackson, a piece that led to many more commissions and brought Powers his first recognition as a portrait artist. In order to establish his professional credentials, Powers moved to Florence with his family in 1837. There he was able to train as a sculptor while taking advantage of the skilled workmen and abundant materials. He invented tools that made the process of stonecutting more efficient, including a pointing machine that transferred the shape of the model to the marble replica [see special installation]. Powers remained in Italy for the rest of his life, creating numerous portrait busts and many idealized figures from religion and history.

Image Credits: Courtesy Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division.