The Powers That Be

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We finally arrived in Dallas yesterday. Let me tell you that first of all, it’s a long drive from Alabama to Dallas, even when it’s split into two days. Once in Dallas, we checked into our hotel, which was far nicer than we expected, then we headed to the Dallas Museum of Art. The DMA has live jazz every Thursday and is open until 9 pm.

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Saxophonist and composer Ron Jones led an ensemble of players performing his original compositions and other arrangements of jazz standards. So along with seeing the amazing exhibits at the DMA, we were able to enjoy live music as we walked through the museum.

The highlight if my visit to the DMA was seeing the two busts sculptured by Hiram Powers. Powers is a subject of research for me, and I made a pilgrimage to his grave in Florence, Italy, while conducting research at the small English Cemetery of Florence and it’s library.

Hiram Powers epitomized the mid-nineteenth century American artist who, possessing extraordinary technical skill, worked in the predominant neoclassical style. Aided by a wealthy patron, Powers was sent to Washington, D.C. where he sculpted portraits of many government officials, including John Marshall, Daniel Webster, and Andrew Jackson. Later he moved to Italy, where he settled in Florence and established a studio with the assistance of another American sculptor, Horatio Greenough.

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Powers’ two most famous sculptures age Greek Slave and Fisher Boy. He produced numerous busts in his lifetime, two of which are on display at the DMA: Faith and America.

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Powers’ talent for reproducing a likeness led to a straightforward naturalism that was to remain the basis of his style. Although he later turned to more “idealized” or allegorical works such as “Faith,” “America,” and “Eve Disconsolate,” Powers’ naturalistic approach to his subject matter was perfectly suited to the aesthetic of the time.

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The bust, “Eve Disconsolate,” has an interesting story to it. All but maybe four busts by Hiram Powers have a known home such as “Faith” and “America” at the DMA. However, “Eve” had been lost for about 100 years. No one knew where her bust had gone. In 1998, the City of Birmingham, Alabama began to renovate the Alabama Theater located downtown. In the process of restoring the grand theater to its former glory, they were cleaning the bust of the “Lady of the Theater” as she was called. When someone looked at the back of the bust they realized that carved into the back was “H POWERS” and someone recognized the name. It was then that they realized this was “Eve Disconsolate,” one of the missing busts of Hiram Powers. They chose to move the bust from the Alabama Theater where it had been largely neglected since the 1930s to the Birmingham Museum of Art where it resides today.

“I see art as the vehicle of nature and the artist as the collector of nature’s truths and beauties.” Hiram Powers, 1850, in Richard P. Wunder, Hiram Powers.

About Joe

I began my life in the South and for five years lived as a closeted teacher, but am now making a new life for myself as an oral historian in New England. I think my life will work out the way it was always meant to be. That doesn't mean there won't be ups and downs; that's all part of life. It means I just have to be patient. I feel like October 7, 2015 is my new birthday. It's a beginning filled with great hope. It's a second chance to live my life…not anyone else's. My profile picture is "David and Me," 2001 painting by artist Steve Walker. It happens to be one of my favorite modern gay art pieces. View all posts by Joe

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