The hands of
Vinnie Ream, the young sculptor who did a marble bust of Lincoln
and then after his death was awarded the commission to sculpt the statute of Lincoln which now stands
in the Capitol Rotunda.
Although I had photographed the statue on a visit to the Capitol a few years ago, I did not know the history of the sculptor. And I was surprised to learn it was a very attractive young woman. At the time Lincoln sat for the bust Vinnie Ream sculpted, she was 18 years of age, and then at 23, commissioned to do the Lincoln statue.
Vinnie Reams’ hands left an imprint on history.
She wrote: “Congress appropriated money to erect a marble statue of the martyred President in the Capitol, it never occurred to me, with my youth and my inexperience, to compete for that great honor; but I was induced to place my likeness of him before the committee having the matter under consideration, and, together with many other artists--competitors for this work--I was called before this committee. I shall never forget the fear that fell upon me, as the chairman (the Hon. John H. Rice, of Maine, who had a kind heart, but a very stern manner) looked up through his glasses, from his seat at the head of the table, and questioned and cross-questioned me until I was so frightened that I could hardly reply to his questions: "How long had I been studying art?'' and had I ever made a marble statue?'' My knees trembled and I shook like an aspen, and I had not enough presence of mind even to tell him that I had made the bust from sittings from life. Seeing my dire confusion, and not being able to hear my incoherent replies, he dismissed me with a wave of his hand, and a request to Judge Marshall, of Illinois, to kindly see the young artist home! Once there, in the privacy of my own room, I wept bitter tears that I had been such an idiot as to try to compete with men, and remembering the appearance before that stern committee as a terrible ordeal before unmerciful judges, I promised myself it should be my last experience of that kind."
then of my surprise and delight when I learned that, guided by the opinion of
Judge David Davis, Senator Trumbull, Marshal Lamon, Sec. O. H. Browning, Judge
Dickey, and many others of President Lincoln's old friends, that I had produced
the most faithful likeness of him, they had awarded the commission to me-the
little western sculptor. The Committee on Mines and Mining tendered me their
room in the Capitol, in which to model my statue, because it was next to the
room of Judge David Davis, and he could come in daily and aid me with his
friendly criticisms. His comfortable chair was kept in readiness. He came
daily, and suggesting ‘a little more here--a little on there--more inclining of
the bended head--more angularity of the long limbs,’ he aided me in my sacred
work by his encouraging words and generous sympathy.”
She wrote this after the unveiling of the Lincoln statue in January, 1871.
“This night when the Lincoln statue was unveiled in the rotunda of the Capitol was the supreme moment of my life. I had known and loved the man! My country had loved him and cherished his memory. In tears the people had parted with him. With shouts of joy and acclamations of affection they had received his image in the marble. Upon the very spot where a few years before they had gathered in sorrow to gaze upon his lifeless body lying there in state while a nation mourned, they had gathered again to unveil his statue. ‘The marble is the resurrection,’ say the old sculptors, and now the dead had arisen to live forever in the hearts of the people whom he loved so well.”
And I like
what she wrote about Washington
D.C. and the Capitol, which, of
course, she had a special feeling for.
“We have a country the chosen of the earth, rich in the best of gifts and prosperous beyond all expectation. Our lines are cast in pleasant places. Those of us who live in Washington are particularly blessed. The sun has never shone upon a more lovely city. Beautifully situated, with healthful and favoring airs stealing up from the sea, between the picturesque banks of the Potomac, and with beautiful buildings rising on every side.”
grand old Capitol, with its majestic dome, towers above them all--a star by day
and a pillar of fire by night. It is truly a picture for the artist always,
whether in the sun, the storm, the rain, the mist or the moonlight. The
Congressional Library is a never-failing fountain of knowledge. It is receiving
now a new impetus and reaching out its arms in every direction. Its growth is
so rapid that the Capitol cannot much longer contain it and it must soon build
a temple unto itself. A storehouse of treasures is encompassed by the
picturesque walls of the Smithsonian and the new museum will eventually become
a second Kensington. The portals of art have been thrown wide open by the
generous hand of Mr. Corcoran and the nation will preserve with gratitude and
affection his noble gift: the Corcoran
We who live here cannot say that we lack advantages.”
"Our country's history and the grand destiny awaiting it, inspire us to action. Our beautiful Capitol will some day lay its proud head low, the grass will grow on our bright avenues and our pictures and statues will crumble into dust, but the recollection of great and good deeds will not die. Where are now the houses and the streets which the illustrious men of the past have inhabited? They have melted away into thin air. They have vanished, but the memory of these great men remains and the heart of youth beats high with aspiration and enthusiasm when listening to the recital of their glowing deeds. Let us all try to do something and do the very best we can. Some can make of themselves great men--all can be good men. Who can say there may not be in this very assemblage some boy who, striving to be good and great, may be revered in story and in song, when the ashes of centuries shall envelope this now fair city."
Vennie Ream lived from 1847-1914.
Copyright 2008 Linda Pendleton.