Saturday, December 29, 2012

John Ward's 1867 "The Indian Hunter" -- Central Park

photo nycgovparks.org
The ancestors of John Quincy Adams Ward landed in Jamestown, Virginia in 1607.  As years passed, one group moved westward, stopping in the rural area of Urbana, Ohio.  There on a farm on June 29, 1830, the boy was born.

Ward’s father was an ardent Whig and “enthusiastic admirer of Andrew Jackson’s greatest political enemy,” as The New York Times would later explain.   These political leanings resulted in Ward’s somewhat ungainly name.

Unlike other farm boys, Ward had a strong artistic bent and spent his leisure time attempting to create clay figures.  The Times said “He never saw a piece of sculpture before he was fifteen years old, but long before that he had learned how to make such queer figures with mud and clay that the country people called him ‘Ward’s queer boy.’”   Although his parents considered his hobby “foolishness,” his sister who was visiting from Brooklyn recognized his potential.

She convinced the Wards to allow her to take young John back to New York with her, using his frail health as her excuse.   He entered the studio of Brooklyn sculptor Henry Kirke Brown in 1849 as a student and assistant, most notably working on Brown’s equestrian statue of George Washington for Union Square.

While John Quincy Adams Ward was learning about sculpture, the mood towards American art was changing.  Although aspiring artists still sailed off to Paris and Rome for formal training, there was a growing interest at home for truly American art created by American artists.  Ward agreed.  With no interest in studying abroad, he espoused that “we shall never have good art at home until our best artists reside here.”

Toward the end of the seven years he worked with Browne, he created his first sketch of a Native American hunting with his dog.   In 1859, the year after Olmsted and Vaux began work on the new Central Park, his sketch had progressed to a plaster model which he exhibited at the Washington Art Club and the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts.

In 1861 he established a studio at Nos. 7 and 9 West 49th Street and reworked his Indian Hunter.   A year later a bronze statuette was exhibited at the National Academy of Design’s annual exhibition.

A cast of Ward's early statuette is in the collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art -- http://www.metmuseum.org/
Unsure that his work was faithful to his subject, Ward traveled to frontier posts in the Dakotas in 1864 to study Native Americans.    Here, according to The Times, “the Indian, not yet sophisticated out of his character by cheap clothing, was still to be seen at his ancestral pursuits.  This lithe, sinewy, crouching, watchful creature had nothing in common with the ‘classical’ athlete.”

Upon his return he reworked the Indian Hunter once again, making the hunter’s hair shaggier, raising his arm holding the bow, and refining the facial features.   In the autumn of the following year a larger than life-size plaster sculpture was exhibited in Snedecor’s gallery on lower Broadway.  The New York Times said “It was a new type of sculpture because it was the result of a faithful study of a type in life.” 

 The statue would change the life of John Quincy Adams Ward.

Ward later told the newspaper, “It attracted some attention, and it had not been there very long before a visitor appeared in my studio, announced himself as August Belmont, explained that he had been interested in my work, and then gave me an order for a statue of Commodore Perry.  From that day to this I have never been without a commission.”

The new statue was illustrated in the Manual of the Corporation of the City of New York in 1869 (copyright expired)
August Belmont was not the only prestigious citizen to notice the work.  A group of wealthy New Yorkers including Hyrus Butler, Robert Hoe, Le Grand Lockwood, H. Pierpont Morgan and H. G. Marquand established the “Indian Hunter Fund” to finance Ward’s bronze casting of the statue and to push for its inclusion in the developing Central Park.   The completed sculpture was shipped to France, to be exhibited in the Paris Exhibition.  On July 4, 1867 the New-York Tribune noted that the work was one of three American sculptures in the fair.  “Ward’s ‘Indian Hunter,’ and Thompson’s Napoleon are appreciated here,” the article said, “as they deserve to be; and I have not yet discovered any sculpture which surpasses them in the union of originality with a truly antique largeness and simplicity.”

Ward’s “Indian Hunter” was ground breaking in its naturalism—a u-turn from the neoclassical style.  Half a century later art critic Charles Henry Caffin would call attention to its “absence of any preconceived theories of technique, so that the group has something of a primitive, almost barbarous feeling; which, however, seems strangely appropriate to the subject.”  Most importantly, it was an American statue of a uniquely American subject.

The white marble base is seen in an early stereopticon view -- NYPL collection
Upon the sculpture’s return to the New York, it was presented to Andrew H. Green, Comptroller of Central Park on December 28, 1868 by the Committee of the Indian Hunter Fund.    In its contributory letter, the group said “We have peculiar satisfaction in placing at your disposal a work so truly American in subject and so admirably executed by one of our native and most celebrated sculptors.  We trust it may find a fitting place in the great Park which is so much admired and appreciated not only by our own citizens, but by all who visit this Metropolis.”

Green responded saying in part, “The commissioners of the Park, fully concurring in your high estimation of the ability shown by the distinguished artist in the conception and execution of this beautiful work, will, with peculiar satisfaction, add its great attractions to those already existing at the Park.”

At some point the pedestal was replaced with granite -- NYPL Collection
Nearly a year and a half later the statue was unveiled on the Mall.  The Indian Hunter sat high upon a white marble base.  In describing the work, The New York Times said on April 23, 1869, “The figures are finely executed, and are better worthy of the attention than any group of statuary yet placed in the Park.”  It was the first statue placed in Central Park by an American artist.

By 1903 the neglected condition of the Central Park statues prompted a full-scale, nearly year-long cleaning by the Park Department.    F. Edwin Elwell, curator of the statuary department of the Metropolitan Museum of Art had suggested the project and he personally directed it.  The Indian Hunter had special needs.

“The Indian Hunter, the well known statue by J. Q. A. Ward in Central Park, just west of the Mall, was a favorite hiding place for large colonies of the municipality’s wasps,” said The Sun on September 81, 1903.  “The mud tenements of these strenuous little insects were plastered thickly over the surface both of the hunter and the dog in the group.  In the corner of one of the eyes of the man, and also in one of the dog’s eyes, there were wasps’ nests, giving the man a decided squint and the dog a very droll appearance.”
At some point before the turn of the century, the pedestal was modified again, now with cross-hatching below the figures -- NYPL Collection
By now the statue had received a replacement base of polished granite, possibly made necessary by the erosion of the original marble.   Four colors of stone create the pedestal, the top most section was updated around the turn of the century with carved cross-hatching.

The Indian Hunter received a replacement bronze bow in 1937 after the original was vandalized, and in 1992 the sculpture was fully restored.  Among the oldest statues in the park, it marks a turning point in American art and in the career of the artist who conceived it.

stereopticon slide from NYPL Collection

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