Harriet G. Hosmer

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Harriet G. Hosmer
American Sculptor
1830 – 1908

Harriet Hosmer was a great woman sculptor who brought respect to both her native land and her sex by her brilliant work. Her life and work was proof that Americans could be sculptors and that a woman could handle a chisel as well as a paint brush.

Harriet Hosmer was born in Watertown, Massachusetts into a physician’s family. Due to the death of her mother and older sister from tuberculosis, her father, an eminent physician, encouraged her to spend much time outdoors in the open air. Harriet soon became an excellent athlete. She loved nature and became quite adept at hunting, fishing, rowing, and horseback riding. Spending this time outdoors helped her to gain a thorough knowledge of animal life, and when while she was but a child she began to model dogs, horses, and other animals in a clay pit near her home.
Formal education was of secondary importance to Harriet. She attended school at Lenox, Massachusetts and her school days were not marked by scholarship or attention to the routine of school life. Nature was her school and teacher. She often despaired of those who were appointed to be her instructors. Finding sculpting her forte, Harriet went to St. Louis to study anatomy, since she could not gain admission to the conservative medical schools of the East. Human Anatomy, which was a necessary course of study for sculptors, was usually forbidden to women.
Next she went to Rome and became the pupil of the famous sculptor, John Gibson, where she attracted the patronage of affluent tourists. The physical strength that she built up in her childhood enabled her to wield a four pound mallet for eight or ten hours per day, which was required of a sculptor. Harriet was not the only female sculptor in Rome at this time, but became one of a group of American women sculptors dubbed the “White Marmorean Flock” by author Henry James. She also joined herself to a large circle of international artists and writers that included Robert and Elizabeth Barret Browning, Nathaniel Hawthorne, and Henry James.

While she was known for her eccentric, practical style, including man-tailored jackets and short hair, her work was much more conventional. Some of her more famous works were “Puck”, “The Sleeping Faun”, and “Zenobia in Chains”. Harriet’s talent and, independent spirit, and friendly demeanor enabled her to become a great success and to enjoy life to its fullest.

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