Harvard Square Library exists solely on the basis of donations. If you have benefitted from any of our materials, and/or if making Unitarian Universalist intellectual heritage materials widely available and free is a value to you, please donate whatever you call--even a small amount here: Donate
American sculptor Laredo Taft observed in his authoritative History of American Sculpture (1903) that, “no one does Wild West subjects with the impressive gravity which Mr. Dallin put into ‘The Signal of Peace’ in Lincoln Park, Chicago and ‘The Medicine Man’ in Fairmount Park, a conspicuous ornament of Philadelphia’s great pleasure-ground.”
Cyrus Edwin Dallin was born on November 22, 1861 in Springville, Utah. His talents at sculpting and art were recognized at an early age, and he was sent to Boston at the age of 19 to study at the sculpture school of T.H. Bartlett.
In 1883, Dallin entered a competition to develop an equestrian statue of Paul Revere. Among the other entrants was Daniel Chester French. No entries were selected, but Dallin persisted in trying to obtain the commission. This began a 58-year endurance trial to get the work made (and paid for). During those 58 years Dallin made seven versions of Paul Revere. A timeline with photos of the seven versions is in the Revere room of the Dallin Art Museum.
In Boston, he gained the respect of the other famous artists of his day, including Augustus St. Gaudens and John Singer Sargent, who became a close friend. He became internationally famous, and his works were widely duplicated and collected.
In 1891 he married a Boston woman, Vittoria Colonna Murray, who was a successful writer. They raised three children: Bertram, Arthur, and Lawrence.
In 1900, at the age of 39, Dallin moved to Arlington, Massachusetts, which remained his home for the rest of his life. As a result, Arlington is now the home for many of his works. He was also busy throughout his life creating war memorials, statues of statesmen, generals, and mythic figures. Dallin created more than 260 sculptures during his life.
Among his most beloved works are those celebrating Native Americans. When Dallin was a boy, American Indians were often depicted as brutal savages. Dallin was among the first to see a more transcendent character, and conveyed this in his many Native American sculptures. His Appeal to the Great Spirit may be the most famous and copied example, but there are dozens of other works which are admired for their humanity and classicism.
Dallin’s prolific output continued until the end of his life. In 1940 he finally saw his Paul Revere statue erected in Boston. By now, the work was famous, with copies installed in schools across America. Dallin contributed substantially to the cost of casting and installing the Boston “original” Boston’s city fathers having failed to fulfill their financial commitments.
Dallin died at home on November 14, 1944, a week shy of his 83nd birthday.
— Courtesy of dallin.org
Cyprus Dallin: An American Sculptor
The sculptor who more than any other captured the grave dignity and the nobility of the American Indian was Cyrus E. Dallin (1861-1944); his great series of four equestrian statues carried the imagery of the red man to its finest expression in sculptural form. Dallin in these works achieved a true monumentality, bestowing upon his subjects those innate qualities that had been almost wholly obscured to the eyes of the white man during the decades of hatred and conflict.
Dallin’s parents were pioneers who in the 1850’s had moved into the vast prairies of the West and helped to establish the little settlement of Springville, about forty miles south of Salt Lake City. There, in 1861, in the crude frontier town encircled by a high adobe wall, Cyrus Edwin Dallin was born, and there he grew up. The adobe wall w as never needed for defense against the Utes who were commonly found camping in the vicinity, and the sculptor recalled many years later that while the rough and boisterous cowboys frightened him on several occasions when he was a little boy, the Indians never did. On the contrary, young Cyrus played games with the Indian boys and frequently went to their encampments and into their wigwams; among other pastimes, they would model little animals from the soft clay along the riverbanks. As a youth, Cyrus came to respect the red man, finding a beauty in his primitive arts, as well as a dignity and integrity in his way of life that was often lacking in the life of his own people. Through the years of his teens, then, his world was circumscribed by the raw life of the miners and cowboys and by the solemn, proud Utes.
Young Dallin’s father operated a mine in the beautiful Wasatch Mountains. Cyrus, who worked at odd jobs around the mine, was present one day when the men struck a vein of white clay, and he soon modeled two lumps of it into portrait heads. They attracted the curiosity and admiration of the entire region, and when they were shown at the local fair that summer, they brought their creator his first patrons: Two men put up the funds to cover the cost of Cyrus’ train fare to the East, plus a little spending money. In the company of a group of Crow Indians, who were headed for Washington, D.C., to see the “Great White Father,” Dallin journeyed across the continent to Boston.
Boston in 1880 overawed Dallin at first. But he was soon studying with the sculptor Truman Bartlett, and assisting him in his studio to help pay for his instruction. To earn extra money, Dallin eventually found a job in a nearby terracotta factory. After two years he opened his own studio, which showed enough profit over the next six years so that the sculptor could afford to go to Paris for further study. From this period date the earliest of his Indian subjects. One of these won on a medal when it was shown at the American Art Association in New York City in 1888. In the fall of that year he went to France.
In Paris, the influences of Chapu and the Academie Julian were apparent in Dallin’s “Apollo and Hyacinthus” and “Awakening of Spring”; these were academic subjects that meant little to the man from the Utah Territory, but he persevered in his studies in order to master technique and the elements of composition. Then Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show came to Paris in 1889, and Dallin rediscovered the American Indian; he became the subject of Dallin’s first major statue—the “Signal of Peace,” the first of his four great equestrian monuments. Dallin later recounted:
The origin of that statue goes back to my boyhood, to a day when I witnessed a peace pow-wow between the Indian chiefs and the United States Army Officers. I shall never forget those splendid-looking Indians arrayed in their gorgeous headdresses, riding up to the army camp …. In making my model of “The Signal of Peace,” I used, to a certain extent, one of the Buffalo Bill Indians; in putting into it that dignity typical of the Indian, I had in my memory the chiefs who rode up to the peace pow-wow many years before.
Quoted from W. Long, “Dallin, Sculptor of Indians,” p.568
In representing his Indian chief with spear pointing upward in a signal of peace, Dallin meant the group to show the trust and good will the Indian offered the white man at their first meeting. The head and figure are truly those of the Indian, modeled with a simple and strong naturalism and without the clever, lively surface treatment of the French school. The sculptor re-created the proud, brave warrior chieftain as he had known him in his youth. Even the scrawny pony is careful rendering of the kind ridden by the Plains Indians.
Although the “Signal of Peace” drew much favorable comment from Parisians in 1890—just before Dallin returned to Boston with it—it was at the Chicago Columbian Exposition in 1893 that America became aware of it. Judge Lambert Tree purchased the statue and made a gift of it to the city of Chicago, where it still stands in Lincoln Park. The group established Dallin’s place among the nation’s most promising young sculptors; and that same year he was elected to the newly formed National Sculpture Society.
But he felt that he needed still more training, and so in 1897 the Dallins departed for Paris. This time Cyrus studied under Jean Dampt. Dallin was represented at the Salon that year by a curious and charming little equestrian statuette of Don Quixote, and the following year by a marble bust of a young lady. But his interest in Indian themes continued, and in 1898 he was working on the second of his major equestrian monuments‚Äî”Medicine Man.” It won high praise at the Salon of 1899 and was given a place of honor and a gold medal at the great Paris Exposition of 1900. According to reports, several Austrians were empowered to purchase it for their country, only to be disappointed when it was obtained for Fairmount Park in Philadelphia, where it may be still seen today.
In Dallin’s series, the “Medicine Man,” unlike the naive chief of the “Signal of Peace,” warns that there may be danger in the presence of the white man on Indian lands. The expression on his face and his upraised right hand suggest a solemnly murmured incantation as he watches from his pinnacle as still more white men with their women, children, wagons, and livestock make their way farther and farther into Indian territory. On seeing this statue, spectators were impressed with the strong naturalism combined with the moving sentiment of the group: The former is a forceful image of the red man, without any modeling tricks or display of virtuosity of style; the latter epitomizes the strange, foreboding, yet heroic medicine man. Critics and artists alike had long agreed that the equestrian group was the sculptor’s greatest challenge, and in the “Medicine Man” Dallin carried the Indian theme to a truly monumental level of artistry. No one had accomplished that before; other attempts at large-scale Indian subjects had suffered from too great a reliance on picturesqueness. Also the equestrian statue had previously been limited to portraits of military leaders; Dallin expanded the motif to include an American ideal subject filled with all the romance, color, and grandeur befitting a monumental art.
Dallin returned to the United States in 1900, bringing with him his latest triumph and the silver medal it had won in Paris. He exhibited the “Medicine Man” at the Pan-American Exposition in Buffalo the following year and at the St. Louis fair in 1904. It was for the St. Louis Exposition that Dallin made the third of his equestrian Indian statues, “The Protest,” which unfortunately was never put into permanent material. This, the most spirited of the quartet, lacked the solemn grandeur of the others, depicting something more momentary than monumental; perhaps that is why it was never cast in bronze. William Howe Downes described the scene as the time when the Indian had become
. . . fully cognizant of his peril and plight. His peaceful advances have been of no avail. He must accept the prophecy of the seer of his tribe. He now arrays himself against the enemy, and, with clenched fist, his steed rearing on its haunches, he hurls defiance at his foe. This is the war stage; the conflict with the frontiersman has begun.
Quoted from “Mr. Dallin’s Indian Sculptures,” Scribner’s Magazine, vol. 57, June 1915 p. 782
“The Appeal to the Great Spirit” stands in front of the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston. First shown at the National Sculpture Society exhibition in Baltimore in 1908, it was awarded a gold medal at the Paris Salon the following year. Like Fraser’s “End of the Trail,” it summarizes the utter despair of the Indian’s situation. After meeting with treachery and broken promises, after suffering continual defeat in armed conflicts, and being totally unable to halt the oncoming enemy, he seeks help out of utter hopelessness from some more just and potent power than mere man, either red or white; he appeals to the Great Spirit who rules the universe. With head thrown back and arms outstretched, the Indian pleads his case. This was one of the most profoundly stirring pieces of sculpture in its day. Moreover, it was so popular that the house of Caproni, which turned out thousands of plaster casts of ancient and modern sculptures in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, produced replicas of it in three different sizes at modest prices. As it appeared within a year of the unveiling of Saint-Gaudens’ “Sherman” in Central Park, it might be said that in T 907-1908 the equestrian statue in American sculpture reached its zenith.
When Cyrus Dallin returned from Paris in 1900, he settled in Boston and taught at the Massachusetts State Normal Art School. His statue of Sir Isaac Newton was cast in bronze about this time and placed in the rotunda of the Library of Congress. Massachusetts accepted it for the Commonwealth and it was erected on the State House grounds. Toward the end of World War I Dallin was working on a statue of a defiant doughboy entitled “Captured but not Conquered.” But none of these attained the sculptural or expressive heights of his “Medicine Man” or his “Appeal.” Only his statue of Massasoit, commissioned by the Imperial Order of Red Men, approached the greatness of the two earlier pieces; stalwart, confident, and heroic, the bronze figure of the great war chief who made peace with the Pilgrims in 1622 was set up on a boulder on Coles Hill in Plymouth to commemorate the 300th anniversary of the event.
In 1921 Cyrus Dallin was sixty. During the next twenty years, however, three major pieces were to issue from his studio. From 1928-l929 dates the “Spirit of Life”—a robed woman holding heavenward a newborn child—which was placed beside a pool in a private residence in Brookline, Massachusetts; it represents one of Dallin’s rare academic ideal pieces. His aged mother, herself a pioneer woman from the earliest days of the state’s settlement, posed for the monument of the “Pioneer Women of Utah,” completed in 1931; and in 1940 his equestrian statue of Paul Revere was unveiled in Boston.
— By Wayne Craven, from Sculpture in America (New York: Thomas Y. Crowell Company, 1984).
The Dallin family, which included three sons, was affiliated with the First Parish in Arlington, Massachusetts—the Unitarian church where the life of the sculptor was celebrated in 1944. The church, which was organized in 1733, is just across the street from the new Cyrus Dallin Art Museum in Arlington Center, pictured at left.
Photographs of Dallin’s Work
Resources Recommended by Harvard Square Library
Ahern’s, Kent. Cyrus E. Dallin: His Small Bronzes and Plasters. Seattle, WA: University of Washington Press, 1995.
Francis, Rell G. Cyrus E. Dallin: Let Justice Be Done. Springfield, Utah: Springfield Museum of Art in cooperation with Utah American Revolution Bicentennial Commission, 1976.