Harriet Hosmer broke barriers | St. Louis Public Radio

Harriet Hosmer broke barriers

Apr 28, 2008

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon: Harriet Hosmer wasn't born in St. Louis. She didn't grow up here or, in fact, live here for very long.

But the woman who would go on to carve her own way as a neo-classical sculptor in a man's world was changed by her time in St. Louis. And she left her mark, including some of her work, in several significant places.

"Next to her hometown, we really are the next big location for events that shaped her life," said Julie Dunn-Morton, curator of fine art collections at the St. Louis Mercantile Library, where Hosmer's marble sculpture "Beatrice Cenci" is on permanent display.

'Beatrice Cenci'
Credit Provided by St. Louis Mercantile Library

Beginning Friday, May 2, several area institutions will celebrate Hosmer's life and work on the centennial of her death with activities that include an installation of four of Hosmer's sculptures at Washington University's Mildred Lane Kemper Art Museum's Teaching Gallery.

"She's just a fascinating character," said Michael Murawski, coordinator for education and public programs at the museum.

Hosmer, who was born in Massachusetts in 1830, came by her St. Louis connection during her time at Mrs. Sedgwick's School in Massachusetts.

"There, she met Cornelia Crow, who was the daughter of Wayman Crow of St. Louis," says Carolyn Willmore, chairman of the Benton Restoration Committee of the Lafayette Park Conservancy, which is also hosting several events. Wayman Crow, a St. Louis businessman, became a senator and one of the founders of Washington University.

And Hosmer's friendship with his daughter brought Hosmer to St. Louis.

First, she studied sculpture in her home state. Because she was a woman, however, Hosmer wasn't allowed to study anatomy at any medical schools.

Things changed when she came to St. Louis.

When she moved in with the Crow family in 1850, Mr. Crow helped Hosmer get into classes on anatomy at Missouri Medical College. Hosmer later lived and worked with a group of women sculptors in Rome, where she had her own studio with men working for her.

But she didn't forget her friends in St. Louis.

Hosmer created sculptures about mythological women -- a bust entitled "Daphne" (see detail on the cover introduction) and the figure, "Oenone" -- as well as a bust of Crow that she gave to him. He also commissioned or helped commission several works for Hosmer, said Dunn-Morton, and made a difference not only in her education, but her career.

Dunn-Morton describes Hosmer's work as quietly emotive, with the style typical of neo-classical sculptors of the time, but often, a little something different, including small details her male counterparts wouldn't include.

"Daphne," "Oenone" and "Portrait of Wayman Crow Sr.," in addition to the bronze sculpture, "Hands of Robert and Elizabeth Barrett Browning," which is part of the St. Louis Art Museum's collection, will be on display at the Teaching Gallery. Hosmer's sculpture "Beatrice Cenci" at the Mercantile Library will also be highlighted during the celebration's events.

Included in those events, the Missouri History Museum will hold a Discovery Tour, "Celebrating Harriet Hosmer," from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Sun., May 4.

In addition to the art exhibit, Lafayette Park hosts an international symposium, "The Life and Works of Harriet Goodhue Hosmer" on June 13 and 14. On June 14, a "Hats Off to Hattie Gala" will raise money for the restoration of the Thomas Hart Benton monument, which Hosmer made out of bronze and has been in the park since 1868.

"It just seems to me like the appropriate time to celebrate the life of Hosmer," Willmore said.

And, in a city that helped shape her, it seems like appropriate place, too.