Joel Tanner Hart started his career as a stonecutter in Bourbon County, Kentucky, and spent much of his free time carving small sandstone figures to give to his friends. In 1835 he moved to Lexington and got a job in a marble factory carving tombstones and ornamental statues. There, he met a young sculptor who encouraged him to leave the factory and open his own studio. In 1846, Hart won a commission to create a life-size statue of the statesman and Kentucky native Henry Clay and traveled to Italy to supervise its carving. He settled in Florence and remained there for the rest of his life, returning to America only to see the unveiling of the Clay statue in front of the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C.