Artist Highlight: Paul Manship

Suzanne Slick, Collection Information Specialist

He believed that a major purpose of art, especially art in the classical tradition, was to reconcile the passage of time with permanence.”

John Manship, son of the artist Paul Manship

As I’m physical-distancing, sheltering-in-place, and working from home (WFH), I am acutely aware of the passage of time and marking it in unusual increments. I’m sure I’m not the only one experiencing this. As we adapt to our “WFH” schedules, balanced with our daily chores and the intake of sad news from the pandemic “hot spots” around the globe, we mark time in 14-day quarantine blocks and by calculating our last moments of human exposure; thinking of the incubation window and planning how long to wait until the next needed trip out for supplies. We’re wondering how long it will take to “get back to normal” — and what our new normal will be. Time is also a key point in the information from scientists, physicians, and government officials as their charts lay out timelines and forecasts for peaks in cases and mortality rates. They tell us to be patient, that it will take months for this storm to calm. Time is on our side, distance is our mantle of safety.

Few works in our collection bring to mind the concept of time as lyrically as Paul Manship’s bronze maquettes of The Moods of Time. The sculptor created the piece’s four elements and their companion, Time and the Fates of Man, for the 1939 New York World’s Fair, designing each to “particularize man’s earthly concept of time in relationship to the movement of the sun.” Manship’s sculptures evoked the classical past in imagery and symbolism but were realized in his fluid, streamlined style — fitting for the fair’s salute to the future – The Worlds of Tomorrow. Time and the Fates of Man was a monumental timepiece — a great sundial with a gnomon or pointer that extended more than 80 feet, tracing the movement of the hours by the shadow cast on the green beside the enormous Perisphere.

A photo of Paul Manship's sculptures in the reflecting pool.
View of the “Perisphere”, in front of it is Manship’s “Time and the Fates of Man”, and visible in the reflecting pool are three of the elements of “The Moods of Time”. Photo courtesy of the New York Public Library.

The Moods of Time consisted of four separate sculptures set in a large reflecting pool near the sundial. They represented Morning, Day, Evening, and Night, each comprised of elegant celestial figures floating on clouds surrounded by symbols of their segment of time — a rooster for morning, owls for evening, galloping horses by day, sleeping figures and a crescent moon by night.

A black and white photo of one of Manship's sculptures. "Morning" shows a man half rising as if from sleep, with a rooster behind him and a smaller sculpted human blowing a trumpet in front of him.
The Moods of Time – Morning, 1939, New York Worlds Fair. Photo courtesy of the New York Public Library.

The large-scale works made for the fair were crafted in “staff”, a plaster compound and mainstay of past expositions’ structures. Fair objects were temporal, made to last only for the duration of the event, and then discarded. Thankfully, for those of us now living in that “world of tomorrow”, Manship made a few bronze maquettes, or models, of The Moods of Time. Fort Wayne native and Cleveland architect James Hamilton acquired one set of the few known sculptures created. They were included in his bequest to the Fort Wayne Art School and Museum in 1942, following his untimely death in 1941.

When the World’s Fair work was commissioned, Manship was still riding high as the most celebrated sculptor in America. The post-WWII explosion of Abstract Expressionism had not yet displaced him and other traditional artists and their representational work.

Before the war, Manship’s classically-based figural work was still viewed as the esthetic standard for public art.  In fact, he was already an established figure in Fort Wayne art history as the creator of the sculpture Abraham Lincoln, The Hoosier Youth, commissioned by the Lincoln National Life Insurance Company in 1928. Manship’s stature as the most popular American public artist had made him the primary choice to execute the company’s tribute to its namesake — it paid $75,000 for the commission during the Great Depression!

Manship's bronze sculpture shows former President Abraham Lincoln as a young boy, with a dog sitting next to him, Lincoln's hand on its head. He holds a book, with his finger marking his place, in the other hand.

Paul Manship. Abraham Lincoln, The Hoosier Youth. Cast bronze, 1938. Photo courtesy of Suzanne Slick.

Abraham Lincoln, The Hoosier Youth is Manship’s imagined portrait of the former President as a young man. No photographs were made of Lincoln until he was thirty-seven, and Manship’s Lincoln is twenty-one. The artist was guided in his portrait creation by Lincoln experts Louis A. Warren, Carl Sandburg, and Ida Tarbell.  The artist describes his tour of the Lincoln family’s Hoosier homestead with Dr. Warren: 

Paul Manship, June 6, 1928: “My trip with Dr. Warren to Lincoln City was more than delightful and I feel that I got considerable feeling for the childhood surroundings of Lincoln by visiting the scenes of his youth. I hope that you will feel with me that in the fact that I found a four-leaf clover on the site of the Lincoln Cabin there is a symbol of good luck for this enterprise upon which I have set my heart.”

Manship based Lincoln’s portrait on documentation, letters, and later images. It is thought that Lincoln, as a young man, stood 6-foot-4 and weighed a muscular 200-plus pounds. Young Abe was a skilled axe-wielder and voracious reader, and he had a dog. The dog, the axe, and a book are all present in the sculpture.

Both Lincoln and Manship had an affinity for animals, and the artist sought a typical-looking hound from the region to model for the work. The inclusion of the dog is based on the documented story that young Abe rescued a dog from an icy stream near the Wabash River. Manship took the dog back to his Paris studio where the sculpture was created and, I assume, the dog sat for the artist.

The following words from the dedication of Abraham Lincoln, The Hoosier Youth are prescient and uncannily fitting for today —a wish for permanence that endures hardship and time.

In this environment, so restful and harmonious, may we hope that it will continue to stand, regardless of changing conditions in our civilization, and may we also hope that neither wars nor insurrections nor eruptions will make of the plaza in which it stands an Acropolis or a Forum or a Pompeii.

Abraham Lincoln : The Hoosier Youth, Paul Manship’s heroic bronze statue.

When we reach the “new normal” and can safely circulate again, stop by 1301 South Harrison Street and say hello to  Abraham Lincoln, The Hoosier Youth and his hound!

Postscript: I finished this post a couple of weeks ago and, in the meantime, found my mother’s New York World’s Fair 1939 Official Guide Book! Young Winifred Forman, Brooklyn-born resident of Schenectady, was 15 when she attended the Fair. I wish she were still here to tell me more about her World’s Fair experiences, but I’m so glad she saved her Guide Book. And here’s an added bonus — Paul Manship’s The Moods of Time – Day appears on page 75!

The cover for the 1939 World's Fair guidebook, which took place in New York. The cover shows that the guidebook would have cost the visitor 25 cents.
Inside the guidebook is a black and white photo of Paul Manship's sculpture of Day from The Moods of Time.
Photos of New York World’s Fair Guide Book, 1939. Photos courtesy of Suzanne Slick.

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