Adolph Alexander Weinman
(Karlsruhe, Germany, 1870 - 1952, Port Chester, New York)
Adolph Alexander Weinman, one of America's renowned turn-of-the-twentieth-century sculptors, was born in Karlsruhe Germany in 1870. At the age of ten, he and his family emigrated to America, where he lived until his death in 1952. His first apprenticeship was with a wood and ivory carver, and while thus engaged, he took evening classes in drawing and modeling at the Cooper Institute in New York, and also at the Art Students League, where he excelled in his modeling class. At the age of nineteen, he began studying under Philip Martiny, a French sculptor who had come to America in the early 1880's, and who executed the doors for Saint Bartholomew's Church in New York. Later, Weinman became an assistant to Augustus Saint Gaudens, the leading American sculptor of the last third of the nineteenth century. Gaudens is remembered for his architectural sculpture, especially the monuments he designed, including The Shaw Memorial in Boston, the Lincoln Statue in Chicago, and the Adams Memorial. Weinman also assisted Daniel Chester French, another renowned American sculptor during this time. French was considered the greatest sculptor of public monuments in his day, and his best-known work is the seated figure of Abraham Lincoln on the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C.
Weinman began sculpting professionally in 1891 and opened his own studio in 1904. His training with the above mentioned accomplished sculptors, coupled with his extraordinary talent, secured him important commissions for architectural sculpture, including designs for monuments, memorials, wall-reliefs, and pediments. Weinman produced a large sculptural group, "The Destiny of the Red Man", for the St. Louis Exposition in 1904, followed by the Maryland Union Soldiers and Sailors Monument in Baltimore (1909), monumental statues of General Macomb (Detroit, 1908), Alexander Cassatt (Penn Station, New York, 1910), Colonel Vilas (Vicksburg, 1912), and two of Abraham Lincoln for Kentucky (Hodgensville, 1909; Frankfort, 1911). He also executed a prodigious amount of handsome Beaux-Arts style architectural sculpture including doors for the Library of Congress (1897); panels for the Morgan Library (1903-06); pediments for the National Archives (Pennsylvania Ave. side, 1933-35) and capitols in Wisconsin (1911) and Missouri (1921-27); sphinxes for the Scottish Rite Temple in Washington (1915); the façade of the NYC Municipal Building (1907-14); and bronze doors for the American Academy of Arts and Letters (1938). The Architectural League of New York awarded him a gold medal in 1913. Commissions for coins and medals were added to his list of sculptural achievments. Author Loredo Taft points out, "a good medal is recognized among sculptors as the final test in artistry; in this field Weinman has had a series of successes." (1) In 1920 the American Numismatic Society honored him with the Saltus Award Medal (which he had designed in 1919). He also designed the United States Mercury dime and the Walking Liberty half-dollar of 1916. He served as president of the National Sculpture Society (1928-31) and a member of the National Commission of Fine Arts (1928-32).
Weinman was a product of his influential teachers, who specialized in architectural sculpture, however he was most affected during the first half of his career by the prevailing artistic and popular preferences for art reminiscent of the Classical world. In 1880, art historians began referring to the contemporary American art scene as the "American Renaissance", a period which spanned the years between 1876 and 1917. The term was applied, because, after the Civil War, America, like Europe of the fifteenth century, began experiencing a 'rebirth' of art and literature while reaping the benefits of Western Expansion and the Industrial Revolution. (2) At this time, wide spread changes were taking place as America made the transition from an agrarian society to one "based on science, industry, commerce, rational order, democracy, and the great energy of the people". (3) The results of these changes were many, and the two changes that most influenced the American art scene were increased wealth and patriotism. The wealthy and the powerful demanded an art that was uplifting and refined. Artists fulfilled these requests by seeking sources in the Classical world (as had Renaissance artists), because of the high moral and idealistic values depicted in the art of those eras. Particularly in turn of the century America, Public architecture was used as the vehicle to convey these desired values, and Saint-Gaudens, Daniel French, McKim, and Weinman successfully provided works that exemplified the ideals of this period in American history.
(1) Loredo Taft, "The History of American Sculpture" (New York: The MacMillan Company,1969), p. 553.
(2) Richard Guy Wilson, "The American Renaissance, 1876-1917" (New York: The Brooklyn
Museum,1979), p. 7.
(3) Wilson, p. 7.