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The Magnet and the Iron: John Brown and George L. Stearns The Stories Behind the Busts

"Brackett's Bust of John Brown" by Lydia Maria Child, New York Tribune, 11 Feburary 1860

Exhibit Description:
Article written by Lydia Maria Child titled "Brackett's Bust of John Brown," published in the New York Tribune on 11 February 1860, page 9, column 6. [Note: Image has been reformatted digitally; the original article sits in a single column.] Text: "The best things of this world never obtrude themselves on public notice. Walking through Washington St. one may see plenty of rich jewelry sparkling in the windows, graceful statuettes, and vases moulded in to every form of beauty. But the gem of gems, the thing most worth seeing in all the city, is in an artist's studio, up two flight of stairs, 24 Tremont Row. There those who visit Boston can see Brackett's wonderful bust of John Brown. That the whole press has not lauded it, with one universal chorus of praise, is merely because the name of John Brown is, at this time, an apple of discord.Those who knew the martyred hero well, pronounce it an admirable likeness. Such is the written testimony of Sennott, the lawyer who was with him during his trial. The artist labored under the disadvantage of not being allowed to enter the prison, when he went to Virginia for the purpose of making this bust. But a friend took accurate measurements for him, and he had enlarged photographs to guide him. It is also a fortunate circumstance that he chanced to meet John Brown in the streets of Boston, several months before his brave bearing at Harper's Ferry had made him world-famous. The expression of the face, and the carriage of the head attracted his artistic eye. He said to himself 'There's a head for a sculptor.' He looked after him earnestly, and went back, in order to pass him again. Upon inquiring who it was, he was told, 'That is old John Brown of Kansas.' The strong impression then made on his mind had much to do with his subsequent desire of going to Virginia for the purpose of modelling his head. The Virginians refused to grant opportunities for this work, partly because they suspected he was secretly employed to make a plan of the jail, with a view to rescue; and partly because they wanted John Brown to die, and there to be 'an end of him,' as some of them expressed it; a wish which does not seem to be in a very fair way of fulfilment.When the artist returned, his soul was so completely absorbed in his work, that John Brown was continually before him, in the dreams of the night, and the mental visions of the day. He read attentively all his writings and sayings, in order to become thoroughly imbued with his character. With such concentration of thought, perhaps it is not extraordinary that he should have produced an excellent likeness. But it required genius to make it so alive. It is this that makes it impress me more deeply than anything I have seen of modern sculpture. There are many statues with graceful outline, and exquisitely cut; but the soul, that made the marble seem to breathe in ancient sculpture, is almost always wanting. In Brackett's Bust of Brown, the character of the man looks through the features wonderfully. Any good judge, that examined it, without knowing whom it was intended to portray, would say, "That is a man of strong will, and lofty courage; kindly of heart, and religious to the very core of his being."A Boston gentleman, who has lived much in Europe, exclaimed, "It is singularly like Michael Angelo's Moses"! Other visitors have also observed this resemblance. But Mr. Brackett had never seen Michael Angelo's Moses, nor any representation of it. In fact, the similarity is merely in character. It is the sublime expression, the air of moral grandeur, which connects the two in the imagination of the spectator. This is not surprising, when we reflect that Michael Angelo had for his ideal the ancient hero, who led his brethren out of bondage, at the command of Jehovah, and Brackett sought to embody the modern hero, whose soul was filled with the same great idea.That the effect produced on my mind is not peculiar, I will prove by two witnesses, whose prejudices would have pre-disposed them to be unfavorable critics. The sculptor's conservative friends were, of course, not pleased with the object of his visit to Virginia. One of them, meeting him in State St. a short time ago, said, 'What are you doing now, Brackett?' 'I have just finished my bust of John Brown,' was the reply. 'Ah, I was sorry to hear of your going to Virginia. It will be a great injury to you,' said the Conservative. The sculptor replied, 'An artist must seek materials wherever he can find them; and rarely can such material be found, as the head of John Brown. You had better come and see it.' 'Not I. The old murderer!' was the abrupt answer. 'Then come and look at the bust of Choate; for I have completed that also,' said Mr. Brackett. A few days afterward, the hunker gentleman called to see the bust of Choate. As he stood before it, he glanced furtively, from time to time, at the head of John Brown, which stood nearby. It seemed to attract him powerfully; for he soon turned and gazed upon it. At last, he asked, 'Is that a good likeness?' 'Those who knew John Brown well agree in telling me so,' replied the sculptor. The hunker looked at it thoughtfully, and said, 'I would give a good deal to think it was a fancy-sketch.' In the presence of that calm, strong, reverential head, he could not repeat the words, 'an old murderer.'An artist who was extremely hostile to John Brown, after looking at this magnificent head, exclaimed, 'The old curse! He ought to be ashamed of himself, for making all the rest of us look so mean.'This remarkable bust is ordered in marble. There are also many orders for copies in plaster. Admirable photographs of it are for sale; but, of course, the best of photographs can never do entire justice to statues.Should this head be dug up, after lying buried for centuries, and there should be no clue to its history, it would at once take conspicuous rank in galleries of Art, and men would say to each other; 'It might be a head of Jupiter, were there not something so Christian in its character.'L. Maria Child."
New York Tribune
Child, Lydia Maria
Exhibit Tags:
publicationsLydia Maria ChildNew York TribuneEdward Augustus BrackettJohn Brown