A Noble Idealism

Sculptor Barnard
left a controversial legacy

Madisonians did not accept
his talent at the time

By Don Ward

February 2012 Edition Cover

February 2012
Edition Cover

(February 2012) – Exactly 75 years ago this month, the Ohio River Valley was recovering from the worst flood in modern times – the 1937 Flood. The flood began in January and lasted through early February of that year. The 72.7 foot water level in Madison, Ind., stands as the city’s highest ever recorded. The most recent April 2011 flood was 49.3 feet. And with all the rain and flooding in 2011, this past year became the wettest on record, a stark reminder of that earlier calamity.
As a way of reminding folks of this river history, the City of Madison and the Riverfront Development Corp. in December decided to launch a design competition for an interactive sculpture that would be created along the riverfront. A call for design entries from artists and engineers was made, with a deadline of Feb. 1.
“We don’t know how artists will depict the flooding, but we are open to fresh ideas,” said Louann Waller of the Riverfront Development Corp. “The final design chosen will be something that people can ride or touch or climb. It will be fun and unique, something people will enjoy for generations.”
Collaboration between artists and engineers was encouraged. Public safety, durability and low maintenance were emphasized. Materials used were to be able to withstand heat, cold, rain, snow, occasional flooding and be resistant to vandalism.
The Madison Bicentennial Fund and a recent grant from the Community Foundation of Madison and Jefferson County have provided $1,000 to each of three finalists to build working models of their designs. The idea was for these three finalist models to be placed on display throughout Madison’s 2012 festival season for input from the public. The selected design’s permanent installation is planned for the corner of West Street and Vaughn Drive.

Lincoln Bust

Smithsonian photo

George Grey
Barnard is pictured
circa 1916 working
in his studio on a
large bust of
Abraham Lincoln.

But no entries were received until Jan. 28, when one entry trickled in. Officials are considering extending the deadline, according Bicentennial chairperson Jan Vetrhus.
“We may need more time to better explain what it is that we are looking for,” she said.
In some ways, the exercise demonstrates how rare it is to find a sculpture artist capable of creating such a significant and lasting piece. But in Madison’s history, there was one artist who ascended all expectations and went on to become an internationally renown sculptor – George Grey Barnard.
Barnard, who lived from 1863-1938, was born in Bellefonte, Pa., but grew up in Kankakee, Ill., the son of Joseph Barnard and Martha Grubb. In his later years he made frequent visits to Madison because his father had moved there to become the minister at the Second Presbyterian Church. The elder Barnards lived in Madison for 30 years, becoming prominent figures in the community and residing at 612 W. Second St. Joseph later took over as chaplain at the Madison State Hospital. Their home later became Gans Funeral Home and is now condominiums.
The family became close friends with Drusilla Lanier Cravens, a granddaughter of the renowned wealthy businessman, J.F.D. Lanier. At Cravens urging, Barnard in 1929 donated a collection of 50 studio plaster statues to Madison. It was placed on display in the former Grace Episcopal Methodist Church on Second Street. The exhibit, which contained several nudes, was controversial and unappreciated by Madisonians and lasted only seven years before Barnard had it shipped to his native Kankakee and offered to the school he attended as a child, Kankakee Central School. Today, a 100-piece collection is on display at the Kankakee Historical Society Museum.

Lincoln Statue

Photo by Rick Dikeman

controversial bronze
Lincoln statue was commissioned by
Charles P. Taft and
stands in Lytle Park
in downtown Cincinnati.

Barnard became interested in art at an early age, playing with the clay of the Mississippi River while his father was a minister in Muscatine, Iowa. At age 13, then living in Kankakee, he perfectly sculpted his sister’s head. This talent led him to apply for art school in Chicago.
At age 19 he moved to Chicago to study at the Art Institute of Chicago. The sale of his work enabled him to afford to move to Paris just 18 months later.
From 1883-1887 he worked under the tutelage of Pierre-Jules Cavelier at Paris while he attended the Ecole des Beaux-Arts. While in Paris, he met Alfred Clark, a wealthy American art collector who became an important patron. Barnard lived in Paris 12 years, with his first exhibit in 1894 at the Salon de Champ de Mars. He was considered a great success by the time he returned to America in 1896. Practically an overnight success, he was admitted an an associate member in the Societe Nationale des Beaux-Arts.
Upon returning to America, he taught at the Art Students’ League of New York for three years but returned to Paris in 1904 to complete two marble allegorical groups, the “Broken law” and the “UnBroken Law” for the Pennsylvania State Capitol. It was a colossal project and much-criticized because it contained 32 nudes.
A strong Rodin influence is evident in his early work. His principal works include “The Boy,” (1885); “Cain” (1886), later destroyed; “Brotherly Love,” sometimes called “Two Friends” (1887); the allegorical “Two Natures” (1894), which is in the Metropolitan Museum in New York; “The Hewer” (1902 in Cairo, Ill.); “Great God Pan” Dodge Hall quadrangle on the Columbia University campus in New York City; the “Rose Maiden”; and “Maidenhood.” He completed the Pennsylvania state capitol monument in 1912.
Barnard was a controversial figure in his time. He sculpted nudes and was often referred to as a modern-day Michelangelo. But his talent went far beyond that. He later became known for his many statues of a non-bearded Abraham Lincoln. One such larger-than-life statue of Lincoln stands in Lytle Park in downtown Cincinnati. Created in 1917 at the commission of Charles P. Taft, the Lincoln statue received much criticism because of Barnard’s use of rough-hewn features and a slouching stance. Even Lincoln’s own son, Robert Todd Lincoln, objected to it. But the statue had one famous supporter, former President Theodore Roosevelt, who said, “The greatest statue of our age has revealed the greatest soul of our age.” In the end, the art lovers of Barnard’s work prevailed, and a second casting of the Lincoln statue stands in Manchester, England (1919). A third copy (1922) stands in Louisville, Ky., on the lawn of the Free Public Library.

Capitol Statue

Photo provided

Barnard’s colossal monument that
stands outside the Pennsylvania
state capitol building was an enormous
undertaking and includes 32 nudes.

Barnard had a commanding personal manner, according to articles written about him during his life. “He talks of art as if it were a cabalistic science of which he is the only astrologer,” wrote the unsympathetic French art dealer Rene Gimpel. “He speaks to impress. He’s a sort of Rasputin of criticism. The Rockefellers are his imperial family, and the dealers court him.”
Interested in medieval art, Barnard gathered discarded fragments of medieval architecture from French villages before World War I. He established this collection in a churchlike brick building near his home in Washington Heights, Manhattan in New York City. He built The Cloisters to house his his personal collection and in 1925 sold it to John D. Rockefeller Jr. Rockefeller donated it to the city of New York, and today it forms part of the nucleus of The Cloisters collection, part of the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
A second collection, The Abbaye, was sold by his estate to the Philadelphia Museum of Art.

Barnard Sculptures

Photo courtesy of Kankakee Historical Society

George Grey Barnard donated this
large collection of plaster sculptures
to his hometown of Kankakee, Ill.
Part of the collection was initially
on display in Madison in 1929. Due to
controversy and a lack of interest in
the exhibit by Madisonians, Barnard
moved the collection to Kankakee
after seven years.

Only two Barnard works exist in Madison. One is a larger-than-life statue of an angelic woman with her hands reaching up to the heavens stands over his parents grave in Springdale Cemetery. The statue is titled, “Let There Be Light.” Barnard placed the statue over his parents’ grave, which he intentionally designed with no names or dates of death on it. Like his minister father, Barnard abhorred the “Grim Reaper” image of death and preferred to depict not death but the afterlife.
A bronze replica of the statue stands over the gravesite of Mr. and Mrs. Isaac Wolfe Bernheim in Louisville. Bernheim was a German immigrant and successful whiskey brewer in Clermont, Ky., who left 14,000 acres – the largest privately owned nature preserve in Kentucky – to the state. Bernheim Forest opened to the public in 1950.
The other statue in Madison is a 16-inch-tall plaster study bust of a woman (head and shoulders only) that is part of the art collection belonging to Historic Madison Inc. and housed in the building next to the Windle Auditorium on Third Street. The collection is only available for viewing by the public by appointment and on special occasions.
HMI Executive Director John Staicer described the piece as resembling Barnard’s “Rising Woman” statue that is owned by the Rockefeller Family.

Barnard Home

Photo courtesy of Jan Vetrhus

George Grey Barnard’s parents,
Joseph and Martha Barnard, lived
for 30 years in this house on West
Second Street in Madison, Ind.

Vetrhus, who helped organize the Madison Bicentennial in 2009, had researched Barnard’s life because she often leads cemetery tours and talks about the Springdale statue. She said Barnard’s story in particular inspired her to develop the idea to bring Madison’s historic figures to life during the weeklong Bicentennial celebration by having character actors portray them.
“I think it is important that we tell our children about these people who came from Madison or had ties to Madison and went on to do great things in their lives,” Vetrhus said. “They are great examples to our youth that you can be anything you want to be.”
In 1895 Barnard married Edna Monroe of Boston. They had one son, Monroe, and two daughters, Vivia and Barbara. He spent the last few years of his life working on a monumental project to peace titled, “Rainbow Arch,” which was never realized. It consisted of more than 50 large-sized heroic figures. It was never finished beyond full-scale plaster models, which were later destroyed.

George Grey Barnard

Smithsonian photo

This photo of George Grey Barnard was taken by Jay Te Winburn circa 1932. It is part of the collection at the Smithsonian Archives of American Art.

Barnard died of heart attack on April 24, 1938, at the Harkness Pavilion, Columbia University Medical Center in New York. He was 74 and working on a statue of Abel, betrayed by his brother Cain, when he fell ill and ignoring doctors’ orders to slow down. Had he lived until May 10 he would have seen the opening of The Cloisters, housing his notable Gothic artwork.
A bust of the famous sculptor was completed by W. Stanley Martineau just before his death. Barnard is interred at Harrisburg Cemetery in Harrisburg, Pa., not far from the statues he had sculptured. In reporting the news of his death, one newspaper called it “the close of a career animated by fine fervor, a noble idealism.”

• Sources for this article include various newspaper reports from a file at the Madison-Jefferson County Public Library; Smithsonian Institution’s Archives of American Art collection; Kankakee (Ill.) Historical Society, and various online resources and articles.

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