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Woman's Art Journal - Fall 1999/Winter 2000 Vol. 20

A Labor of Love: The Life and Art of Vinnie Ream
by Glenn V Sherwood
SunShine Press Publications, Colorado

Reviewed by Charlotte S. Rubinstein

Many significant contributions to the literature ahout women painters and sculptors have come from nontraditional sources. Because of the marginalized position of women artists, it was not easy for art historians and critics to develop their careers by devoting long years to research about them; therefore the task, in the early years of the women's movement especially, often fell to researchers outside the art history establishment.

Glenn Sherwood's book about Vinnie Ream (1847-1914) shows both the advantages and a few of the problems of such nonorthodoxy. The author, a design engineer and a Ream descendant, is clearly driven by a personal commitment to the pioneering 19th-century sculptor whose statue of Lincoln in the U.S. Capitol was tbe first major sculpture commission awarded to a woman by the federal government. Sherwood more than compensates for any shortcomings in art history by his willingness to spend years digging into primary sources and by his special access to information. His efforts have uncovered mnch material that is useful to scholars of Ream's work and also illuminates the condition of women of her period.

Like so many women artists (e.g., Anne Whitney [1], Harriet Hosmer, and in our time, Maya Lin), Ream became the object of controversy when she won the Lincoln commission. In his search for every detail of the circumstances surrounding these events, Sherwood studied newspapers, magazines, and letters and unearthed copious material from the Congressional Globe, Congressional Record, National Archives, and elsewhere. It is fascinating to read uncut speeches by members of Congress as they fought over Ream's award. Tbe reader becomes a contemporary spectator in tbe Senate, listening to the strident voices of such famous men as Charles Sumner and Benjamin Wade, their biases reflecting the political and economic conflicts following the Civil War and the assassination of Lincoln. Like a camera panning a scene during the filming of an epic movie, the author's widened view reveals Vinnie Ream as a small intrepid figure buffeted about by larger social forces. [2]

Regional power struggles were at work: the northeastern establishment objected to interlopers from western states (Ream was born in Wisconsin), and of course sexism was rampant at a time when the suffrage movement was gatbering strength. But Sherwood's abundance of information sets forth the complexities of the situation. For example, when Andrew Johnson was catapulted into tbe presidency after Lincoln's assassination, the radical group opposing Johnson's policies attempted to impeacb him. Because Ream and her family were personal friends of Senator Ross (he was a boarder in the Ream home), she was suspected of influencing him to vote against impeachment and was accused of being a Confederate sympathizer. The artist was not only subjected to vitriolic verbal attacks; she was temporarily thrown out of ber studio in the Capitol while working on the full-length clay study of Lincoln, and her model was almost destroyed in an attempt to remove it from the building. We see clearly that political issues affected opinions about tbe worth of the artist as well as the art work.

Vinnie Ream's gifts in music, writing, and art were revealed early; and Sherwood documents how her family; despite a nomadic and insecure life on the midwestern frontier, encouraged her to use her talents. Ream not only had the traits necessary to overcome obstacles, talent, dedication, daring, and energy, as well as tbe more "feminine" characteristics of tact, charm, and diplomacy she also knew how to promote herself, not hesitating to visit people in high places to plead her case. The account of her trip abroad to complete her sculpture in marble shows her securing introductions and winning support from leading figures, among them Gustave Dore in Paris and Franz Liszt and Cardinal Antonelli in Rome. Like today's media stars, she projected an "image." She allowed her long wavy hair to flow loose and wore picturesque ethnic costumes and jewelry. Detractors accused her of using "women's wiles" to gain commissioms.

Sadly, Sherwood also reveals that despite prodigious efforts in tbe face of continual attacks and the successful completion of the Lincoln statue, Ream struggled to obtain work; commissions dried up because of the controversy. She was as notorious in the South as in the North her father discovered, and he wrote her after a trip to Louisiana: "What have you ever done to cause your name to be hawked about and mixed up in such a manner? You are made notorious against your will, your name and fame are bound to outlive you. Just think, when we are all dead and gone, someone will write a novel about you and another will write a play. Your studio in the Capitol will be a grand tableau.... Bingham and Butler will be in the play and there will be broken statues...and Thaddeus Stevens will be one of the heroes. (118)

However, the greatest obstacle to her career was, ultimately, her marriage to Navy lieutenant Richard L. Hoxie. The artist was hard at work on a full-length statue of Admiral Farragut (it remains the bronze center piece of Farragut Square in Washington, D.C.), when they met. After their marriage, he permitted her to complete Admiral Farragut, unveiled with fanfare in 1881, but forbade her from carrying out paid commissions thereafter. Relieved of financial burdens for the first time in her adult life she was also caring for her ailing elderly parents. Ream perhaps at first was glad to give up her work to devote time to her husband and their child Richard (who died in an institution, possibly a schizophrenic), and to charities. Like a good service wife, she accompanied her husband to his various posts. After she had a heart attack in 1903, doctors advised Hoxie to permit his wife to resume her profession. It was deemed necessary to her health. During her last few years, Ream carried out several commissions. She died in the midst of work on a statue of the Cherokee leader, Sequoyah, which was posthumously completed by' George Zolnay and is now in the U.S. Capitol.

One can carp about aspects of this book. Sherwood's discussions of the art movements of the day are somewhat unsophisticated, and his speculations about the spiritual sources of Ream's career are open to challenge. His prose style could use some polishing, and the constant references to "Vinnie" (sculptor Hiram Powers is referred to as "Powers") are jarring. Sherwood nonetheless has allowed Ream to emerge as a three-dimensional figure. The book is handsomely produced, and readers will find more documentation and more illustrations than have appeared in any earlier publication about her. The author has attempted to locate every work and to separate myth from fact about various aspects of the artist's career. Building on this research, scholars can now undertake a more thorough analysis and evaluation of Vinnie Ream's oeuvre in relation to the period and the history of American sculpture and its female practitioners.


[1] Anne Whitney lost the commission for a statue of Charles Sumner after the judges discovered that she was a woman. Late in life, with the aid of supporters, she carried out the statue, now located in Harvard Square. Harriet Hosmer, accused of having workmen create her sculptures, defended herself with a libel suit. Maya Lin was forced to devote two years to a defense against aftacks on her design for the commission for the Vietnam Veteran's Memorial in Washington, D.C.

[2] For more on the controversy, see Joan Lemp, "Vinnie Ream and Abraham Lincoln," WAJ (F85/W86), 24-29.

Charlotte S. Rubinstein is author of American Women Artists (1982) and American Women Sculptors (1990).

Washington History V11, N2, Fall/Winter 1999-2000

A Labor of Love: The Life & Art of Vinnie Ream

By Glenn V. Sherwood (Hygiene, Colo.: SunShine Press Publications, Inc., 1997), 464 pp., index, append., cloth: $60. Reviewed by Lucinda P. Janke Vinnie Ream was one of Washington's most famous nineteenth-century sculptors. Many of her best-known works remain on prominent display in the city, including her marble statue of Abraham Lincoln in the Capitol rotunda and her bronze statue of Admiral David Farragut, the capital's first monument to a naval hero, which dominates the park bearing his name. Several of her works are in the Smithsonian Institution's National Museum of American Art, as is her portrait, painted by George P.A. Healy around 1870. Celebrated as a very young woman for her talent and prolific sculptural work, she also gained a certain notoriety for her close friendships with several prominent politicians.

Born in Wisconsin in 1847, Ream came to Washington as a child and lived near the Capitol on North B Street (Constitution Avenue). Her artistic talent surfaced early, but it was after a visit to the studio of Clark Mills in the basement of the Capitol, where he was casting Thomas Crawford's statue of Freedom for the Capitol dome, that she decided to become a sculptor. In 1863, at the age of 16, she started taking sculpture lessons from Mills, and her earliest works were done inhis studio.

The pretty, out-going young sculptress was an immediate sensation and was befriended by many congressmen and other powerful government figures. In 1864 when she decided that she wanted to sculpt a bust of Lincoln, her influential friends successfully urged the reluctant president to sit for her, arguing that she was a poor "western" girl of promising talent. The bust was completed just before his assassination; she was the only sculptor to model him from life. When she won a congressional commission in 1866 to sculpt a full-length statue of the slain president, she was aided in the competition by President Andrew Johnson and many members of Congress. Her winning design broke new ground in an era of neo-classical art by depicting Lincoln realistically, but the award provoked controversy because she was both the youngest person and the first woman given an art commission by Congress. Ream was accused again of using feminine wiles and political connections when she later won the commission for the Farragut statue.

Sherwood's thorough documentation of such allegations offers a glimpse into the sometimes cutthroat nature of the nineteenth-century art world, particularly as it intersected with the national political arena. Ream was often subjected to vicious attacks, including suggestions that she did not really do her own work.

In 1878 Ream married Lieutenant Richard Hoxie, then chief engineer officer for the District of Columbia, whom she met while casting the Farragut statue at the Navy Yard. President Ulysses S. Grant, General William T. Sherman, and most of the Senate attended their wedding. Ream's marriage did not end her career but did slow it down as she began leading a somewhat conventional Washington social life in their house at 1632 K Street, N.W. She also left Washington a number of times to accompany her husband to other postings until his retirement from the Army in 1908 as a brigadier general. When Ream died in 1914 her husband placed a replica of her marble figure of the Greek poet Sappho on her tomb in Arlington National Cemetery.

Historians of American art have long recognized Ream's youthful talent through her major national commissions, but an outline of her entire artistic output and much of her personal biography are presented in Labor of Love for the first time. Sherwood's book suc- ceeds both as a readable if lengthy biography of an intriguing personality and as a competent scholarly compilation. It includes an inventory of Ream's known works, their locations and sizes, and a discussion of lost works, as well as an extensive bibliography. The text is supplemented by approximately 200 black-and-white illustrations and a color plate of Ream's portrait.

Sherwood has done prodigious research, but has not attempted a scholarly synthesis of the material. Instead, he presents all the information he uncovered and lets the char- acters speak for themselves, arguing that readers should draw their own conclusions. At times this is more cumbersome than helpful. The debate in Congress over the commis- sion for the Lincoln statue, for example, is reprinted in its entirety-30 pages worth. Despite its significance, the debate might well have been summarized in the text and possibly reprinted in an appendix. There are as well some signs of a rush to publication such as minor errors and duplication of the same illustration 13 pages apart. Sherwood does succeed, however, in providing as complete a picture of Ream's life and career as possible, given the available documentation, and in recreating the general ambiance of the time and place where she lived and worked, Victorian Washington.

Lucinda P. Janke is curator of the Kiplinger Washington Collection and a member of the HSW Board of Trustees.

Washington History, Fall/Winter 1999-2000

The Bloomsbury Review - Volume 19/Issue 3; May/June, 1999, pp 18-19.

A Labor of Love
The Life and Art of Vinnie Ream
SunShine Press Publications, $60.00 cloth
ISBN 0-9615743-6-4
P.0. Box 333, Hygiene, CO 80533

The gifted Vinnie Ream called her creation of Abraham Lincoln's statue in the U.S. capitol "A Labor of Love." Glenn V. Sherwood reveals that these same words "reflected my own personal odyssey in compiling this volume." The resulting biography of this young sculptor is not only an exhaustive study of the artist's life and the historic figures associated with her, but an in-depth review of the political significance of the era.

Labeled "child genius" and prairie Cinderella," Vinnie Ream was ahead of her time in many ways. It's hard to imagine a girl of 18, more than a century ago, receiving a commission from the U.S. government to create a statue of the president. To be the youngest artist and first woman to achieve this honor is extraordinary.

Ream's talents were as varied as the subjects she immortalized in clay and marble. From her first poems and prose, published in newspapers at age 11, to her crowning achievement of the Lincoln statue in 1871, she created statuettes, busts, and portraits of such prominent people as Admiral Farragut, William Seward, Robert E. Lee, Ulysses S. Grant, Susan B. Anthony, Horace Greeley, Frederick Douglass, and George A. Custer.

Despite her poor background and meager education, she loved music, which she both composed and performed, as well as poetry.

Her poem "Lincoln," written after her statue was unveiled, contains these stirring lines:
"O, Lincoln, prophet, hero, friend!
You clasped the hands so long estranged,
You healed the wounds--you broke the chains,
You honored all our silent slain."

When she first met the great man and told him of her background, she recalled:
"And so it was, the great heart which vanity could not unlock opened with the sympathy that recalled to him his own youth."

One newspaper described her Lincoln statue:
"He stands at his full height, the head bending forward, the face looking downward, as if surveying the Emancipation Proclamation held in his right hand. A long circular cloak--a modern cloak-- covers the right shoulder and arm, falling off the left, and caught by the forearm and held by the left hand."

An interviewer asked why she hadn't presented the president "in a heroic attitude with shoulders thrown back, with head more erect and his arm more elevated, as he gave to the world the proclamation of freedom?"

Her answer was, "Because I never saw him in that attitude. On the contrary, I often found him tilted back in his chair with his feet encased in a pair of slip-shod slippers resting on a table, about on a level with his head."

Despite her obvious qualifications and the late president's approval, there was much controversy about granting her the commission. In a chapter titled The Great Debate, senators' descriptions varied from "a young girl of poor parentage, struggling with misfortune, ... she manifests great taste and great powers of art, and in the short experience which she has had she has developed wonderful powers in that line"

to opposing opinions, which declared,
"this candidate is not competent to produce the work which you propose to order. You might as well place her on the staff of General Grant, or put General Grant aside and place her on horseback in his stead. She cannot do it."

Even after the contract was eventually awarded and payment of $10,000 was agreed upon, no money was given to begin the work--a heavy financial burden for the young artist. As Sherwood explains in an early chapter:
"The U.S. Capitol would seem like an enviable niche for a portrait artist. But politics can be a strange business and Vinnie Ream was soon to find herself in one of the strangest episodes in American politics."

It was the time of impeachment proceedings brought by Republicans against the Democratic president, Andrew Johnson, in February 1868, and several senators opposing his conviction held secret meetings in her small Washington studio.

Senators weren't Vinnie's only supporters. One of her earliest admirers was a mixedblood Cherokee, who wrote her love poetry. A famous Confederate general made her a Mason, to the consternation of his fellow lodge members, and several poets of the era wrote romantic verse, some of which she set to music. She supposedly received a proposal of marriage by mail from the Mormon leader Brigham Young. After completing a bust of Franz Liszt, it is believed he dedicated a musical piece to her; and later wrote the music for her wedding to Richard Hoxie in 1878.

If the book at times seems overburdened with minutiae--entire chapters are devoted to word-by-word debates in Congress--Sherwood explains:
"This has been done deliberately to let the his torical characters speak for themselves and to allow readers to interpret the original material from their own experience."

His enthusiasm and passion for his famous ancestor--he is related to the Ream family through both parents--has produced a sympathetic scrapbook of the woman and the era, crowded with pictures of Vinnie at all ages. Illustrations of her work and models, sketches, letters, and invitations fill the pages, along with photographs of historical figures.

It is impossible to ignore the comparison between Vinnie Ream and Maya Lin, a young Yale student who created the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C. Both were young women, competing against well-known and respected artists, who were forced to defend their work in Washington before antagonistic judges. It's enlightening to learn that in a 1909 speech, Vinnie Ream stated that "Women have at last burst their bonds" and said that women could have both a family life and professional careers, an idea ahead of its time.

Surprisingly, the book does not end with Vinnie's death in 1914. A long list of tributes to her is listed in an epilogue, followed by an appendix chronicling her contributions to 19th-century culture:

"The art of Vinnie Ream and the notoriety of naturalism in portraiture. Her Lincoln statue influenced later sculptures of Lincoln and helped start a trend that would be taken into the twentieth century by sculptors like Daniel Chester French."

Sherwood has even included an Unsolved Mysteries section, which probes questions raised about her work, the Ream family, and her role in the Andrew Johnson impeachment trial.

The author's admiration for this extraordinary woman is evident. His final sentence expresses his feelings eloquently: "Vinnie's presence and the spirit of Lincoln, may have been enough to radically change American history."

REVIEWER: Barbara Weston, a freelance writer living in Miami, FL, writes poetry, short fiction, features, and reviews.

Civil War Book News: A REVIEW

TITLE: Labor of Love: The Life and Art of Vinnie Ream

AUTHOR: Glenn V. Sherwood

APPEAL: The first extended and extensively illustrated biography of this noted and controversial Civil War era artist

QUOTES: "She knew Lincoln had little interest in mock heroics and she thought the statue should capture the president in a distinctive, yet natural American mode. While Horatio Greenough's statue of Washington was highly regarded by some esoteric art critics, it had clearly been a failure from a political standpoint. Vinnie wisely began by creating a likeness of Lincoln that gained the acceptance of people who knew the man. An honest portrait was needed that conveyed the essence of the president, but it also needed to contain an element of the ideal. For a 19-year-old girl, it seemed an impossible undertaking, and many people thought so, but Vinnie approached her work as a sacred trust. The question remained unanswered and hauntingly prevalent. Could Vinnie Ream, the upstart from the West, succeed where many venerable artists had failed - and create a truly enduring statue of Lincoln, the revered patriarch of the era?"

PRO: The fascinating story of a pathbreaking artist who knew many of the key figures of the Civil War and who won bitterly contested Civil War memorial commissions during Reconstruction. Lavishly illustrated and sourced, this is also a compellingly well written narrative. A nice mix of American art history and post-CW politics, this is a physically impressive volume that is a credit to the publisher. Thoroughly satisfying.

CON: The passages reproducing Congressional debate and VR's petition break the narrative flow.

REVIEWER: Dimitri Rotov.

Lincolniana, by Frank J. Williams, literary editor


A Labor of Love: The Life of Vinnie Ream by Glenn V. Sherwood is obviously a labor of love by the author. This beautifully illustrated and well-written book about the young sculptor who carved the statue of Lincoln that is in the U.S. Capitol is available from: SunShine Press Publications, P.O Box 333, Hygiene, CO 80533
[pp68-69, Lincoln Herald, Summer 1999]

Lincoln Memorial University Press
1234 Cumberland Gap Parkway
Harrogate, TN 53453

Exhibits and Collections

Lincoln From Life: As the Artists Saw Him. The first exhibition to bring together important paintings and sculpture for which Abraham Lincoln posed from life, opened at the Lincoln Museum in Fort Wayne on April 24. The show runs through October 17. Some 50 works of art are on view including life masks, busts, portraits, sketches and the photographs that artists and sculptors used as models to help them capture Lincoln's features. Award-winning actor Sam Waterston, who portrayed Lincoln in the TV mini-series Gore Vidal's Lincoln and in the New York stage revival of Abe Lincoln in Illinois, gave an opening night address and performance. Harold Holzer, who was guest curator, also presented a paper, with slides, on opening night. The opening events will soon air on C-SPAN, which will also broadcast a gallery tour with Brian Lamb and Harold Holzer. CBS Sunday Morning will also air a future segment on the show.
[p69, Lincoln Herald, Summer 1999]

(NOTE: The C-SPAN program aired on June 25 and the CBS segment aired on July 4. The ordering information for the C-SPAN tape of the program is given below. The programs included a segment on Vinnie Ream and her statue of Lincoln - GVS)

Abraham Lincoln Portrait Exhibit
Lincoln Museum
Fort Wayne, Indiana (United States)
ID: 125519 - 06/25/1999 - 0:47 - $29.95
Holzer, Harold, Director, Metropolitan Museum of Art


Longmont man sheds light on 19th-century sculptor

By Silvia Pettem

Almost everyone would recognize the life-size marble statue of Abraham Lincoln in the rotunda of the United States Capitol Building in Washington, D.C. Yet few have heard of Vinnie Ream, its sculptor of more than a century ago.

Longtime Longmont resident Glenn Sherwood has just completed "A Labor of Love, The Life and Art of Vinnie Ream."

"Being related to the Ream family through both of my parents, I had often heard stories of this legendary ancestor," said Sher wood. "When I grew older, I did more research."

A writer for the Smithsonian Museum called Ream "the most promi nent American woman sculptor of the 19th century." Yet the pretty young woman with long dark curls was largely neglected by the history books. Now, after years of archival research, Sherwood gives Ream the recognition he feels she had been denied.

Ream was born in 1847 in Wisconsin Territory, then considered part of "the West." It was said that the local Native Americans recognized her talent and taught her to draw and paint. After being educated in Columbia, Mo., Ream moved with her family to Washington, D.C., at the start of the Civil War. She showed a remarkable ability to work with clay and was tutored by an accom plished sculptor.

President Lincoln posed for Ream when she was a struggling teen age artist. At age 18, she was the youngest sculptor and the first woman ever to receive a federal commission for a statue. Ream remembered Lincoln as a "man of unfathomable sorrow."

Lincoln was assassinated before the clay sculpture was completed, but Ream acquired his clothing and measured it in order to accu rately finish her work. The Lincoln statue was rendered in marble in Rome and unveiled in Washington, D.C., in 1871.

Critics accustomed to the ideal likeness of the neoclassical school attacked her style. They claimed that "men did her work" and called her a "fraud" and a "humbug." Eventually, the criti cism died out when her work became popular and was accepted by the public.

Besides Lincoln, Ream sculpted more than 100 statues, busts and medallions, many of them of major military and political figures of the time. These included Admiral David Farragut and General George Armstrong Custer.

Ream's art fell into obscurity following her marriage to Civil War veteran Richard Hoxie and the subsequent birth of their son. As a military wife, she was permitted to work for love but not for money. Just before her death in 1914, she sculpted Sequoyah, an Indian chief in the Oklahoma Territory. Sequoyah is now in Statuary Hall, also in the United States Capitol Building.

Besides her art, Ream was a musician who sang to wounded soldiers and worked at war-relief concerts. Sherwood is an engineering technician at the National Institute of Standards Technology in Boulder and a member of the Longmont Symphony. "She and I share a lot of common interests," said Sherwood. "Writing is a bridge between the present and the past."

"A Labor of Love" is available in bookstores and from Sunshine Press Publications Inc., of Hygiene. Call Sunshine Press at (303) 772-3556 or visit their Web site, www.Sunshinepress.com.

Sylvia Pettem is a Boulder County Colorado historian. Boulder Planet, Volume II, Issue 18: Nov. 5 - 11, 1997