The Carter Announces Major Acquisition: John Quincy Adams Ward's "The Freedman," a Landmark Sculpture of the American Slave

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Release date: 
June 13, 2001

Slide available upon request; view on Web site: http://www.cartermuseum.org

FORT WORTH, Texas --- The Amon Carter Museum announced today that it has acquired an important early cast of "The Freedman," a bronze statuette by the 19th-century sculptor John Quincy Adams Ward (1830--1910), one of the first artists to produce bronze sculpture in America. Ward's "The Freedman," modeled in 1863, has always been considered one of the most important sculptural works in 19th-century American art. Coming at the time of the Emancipation Proclamation (1862--63), it is a heroic image of a slave, his chains broken and his manacles loosened. But this particular version, heretofore unknown to scholars, is singularly important. Unlike any of the other extant versions, this cast has a working manacle, representing the still unresolved issue of slavery in America at the time Ward produced it. More importantly, the manacle also bears a memorial tribute to the 54th Massachusetts Volunteers, the first black troops recruited in America during the Civil War. With their young commander, Robert Gould Shaw, the 54th Massachusetts Volunteers were massacred at Fort Wagner, S.C., on July 18, 1863, and this cast of "The Freedman" is perhaps the earliest tribute to their memory. The museum's cast of this celebrated work is quite possibly the first of the six casts of the piece Ward is said to have produced in his lifetime.

The making of a bronze sculpture begins with an artist's prototype, often modeled in clay and then cast in plaster. From the artist's clay or plaster model, a mold can be fabricated, and with that mold a cast can then be made using molten bronze. Although the mold-making and casting is left to skilled workers in a foundry, the artist typically oversees the production of the bronze cast, providing final touches by hand and choosing the finish, or patina, that adds color and luster to the bare metal.

"The Freedman" will be on view at the Carter when it reopens on Sunday, October 21, 2001, following its two-year, $39 million expansion.

"This is truly a masterpiece of American sculpture," said Amon Carter Museum Director Rick Stewart. "Its subject is not just about slavery, but the freedom and dignity of all humans. It is a work of art that was created in conjunction with one of the great moments in the history of our nation---the Emancipation Proclamation. This piece also marks the heroic service of America's first black troops in one of the most significant events of the Civil War, a fact that adds to the poignancy of Ward's expression of freedom. This sculpture will serve as a valuable teaching tool for future generations who visit the museum."

In September 1862, President Abraham Lincoln called on the seceded states to return to the Union, or their slaves would be set free. When no state returned, he issued the Emancipation Proclamation on January 1, 1863. When Ward unveiled the statuette in its initial plaster version at the National Academy of Design in New York in the spring of 1863, it created a sensation. Many admirers called for its recreation as a monumental work of public sculpture. The 19th-century critic James Jackson Jarves advocated in 1864 that Ward's "The Freedman" should be installed in the Capitol building in Washington "to commemorate the crowning virtue of democratic institutions in the final liberty of the slave."

A colossal version of "The Freedman" was never produced. The statuette is only 20 inches high, but its place in art history as perhaps the most profound expression of emancipation conceived by an American artist makes it a true monument of American art. In this work of art, the slave is not an abject figure, longing to be freed. The figure is of a black man who is unshackled, and he is strong and willful. In other casts of "The Freedman," the figure has broken free of his manacles by his own will. In this version, the manacle is still in place and can be opened or locked with an actual key that has stayed with the piece. The working manacle is a potent reminder of the unresolved issue of slavery in 1863, and its presence suggests that this cast was produced before the end of the war.

The manacle is engraved with the tribute to the 54th Massachusetts Volunteers who were massacred at Fort Wagner, S.C., on July 18, 1863. This figure stands, therefore, as the first known memorial to Colonel Robert Gould Shaw and his soldiers, who served in the first regiment of black troops mustered in the North. Although Ward's plaster of "The Freedman" predated the massacre of Shaw and his men, the sculptor's especially powerful representation of emancipation was obviously regarded as an appropriate memorial to these troops. That the 54th Massachusetts Volunteers were memorialized so soon after their defeat at Fort Wagner was unknown before this cast was discovered.

"This is one of the most beautiful and technically refined bronze sculptures made in America in the 19th century," said Patricia Junker, Amon Carter Museum Curator of Paintings and Sculpture. "Any period cast of this work would be wonderful to have. Its beauty and poignancy are deeply moving. But when we found out that this particular cast bore the memorial tribute to Robert Gould Shaw and the 54th Massachusetts Volunteers, there was no question that this was the most significant of all the known casts, and it thus becomes one of the most important sculptures ever produced in America."

In another engaging twist in the story, this unique cast of "The Freedman" comes from the collection of Dr. Zelma Watson George (1903--1994), who was born in Hearn, Texas, just south of Fort Worth, and went on to become an eminent African-American civic leader. Her father, Samuel Watson, was a Baptist minister and also a celebrated crusader for the civil rights of African Americans. Mr. Watson was active in the fight for civil rights for black prisoners in Dallas, but then moved to Kansas and eventually settled in Chicago. Though it has not yet been determined how Dr. George obtained the sculpture, Carter curators are researching the history of the Watson family and any possible connections between it and the 54th Massachusetts Volunteers.

About John Quincy Adams Ward

John Quincy Adams Ward is a major figure in the history of American sculpture. He was born in 1830 on a farm west of Columbus, Ohio, and displayed an early aptitude for sculpture by modeling toy animals and men out of clay. Through an older sister's connection, he was eventually apprenticed to sculptor Henry Kirke Brown in Brooklyn from 1849 to 1856. There he received the finest training in sculpture then available in America, learning to work in clay, plaster, marble and bronze, a medium that Brown had mastered while abroad and then introduced to the United States.

By the time Ward opened his own studio in New York in 1861, he was thoroughly competent in sculptural techniques. Inspired by Brown, he had come to favor naturalism in his works, even in ideal or literary pieces. His best work-like his first ideal work, "The Indian Hunter" (1860) and his subsequent "The Freedman"-is characterized by a striking command of anatomy and a strong sense of animation.

The early work of Brown and Ward helped to popularize bronze sculpture in the United States and thus worked to spur technical advances in bronze casting in America. At the middle of the 19th century, there were few foundries in this country. Brown established his own foundry in Brooklyn, and Ward's first efforts were produced at the Ames Manufacturing Company in Chicopee, Mass., which until the 1850s was principally engaged in commercial and industrial casting. Ward's achievements in bronze were paramount during a period of growth and refinement in this country's bronze casting industry.

Ward recorded that in his lifetime he undertook the casting of six bronzes in the 1890s. Because of the expense involved, bronze casts in Ward's day were usually made only on commission. Exactly who commissioned the Amon Carter Museum's cast of "The Freedman" as a memorial to the 54th Massachusetts Volunteers is not yet known.

Though Ward's reputation today rests primarily on the small statuettes of "The Indian Hunter" and "The Freedman," he was in his own time a celebrated sculptor of monumental works. In the decades after the Civil War, as the country's fervor for honoring in bronze the military and political heroes of the great rebellion rose, no sculptor received more commissions for monumental portrait statuary than Ward.

About the Amon Carter Museum

The Carter opened in 1961 through the generosity of Amon G. Carter (1879--1955) as a public museum housing his collection of approximately 400 paintings and sculptures by Frederic Remington and Charles M. Russell. The collection has since grown to almost 250,000 works of American art, including masterpieces in painting, sculpture, photography and works on paper by leading artists of the 19th and 20th centuries. The photography collection alone is one of the largest and most significant in the country. As a whole, the Carter's collection presents a vivid panorama of American art and culture from 1825 to 1950.

The museum's new building will have three times the exhibition space as before, allowing four times the amount of artworks to be on view. The trademark façade and 19,000 square feet of architect Philip Johnson's original 1961 structure remain intact, while additions from 1964 and 1975 have been replaced with the new construction. The 94-year-old Johnson and his firm, Philip Johnson/Alan Ritchie Architects, designed the Carter expansion, resulting in what Johnson has called "by far the best building plan we have ever done." Thus, the architecture of the museum, both old and new, spans the career of one of the world's most distinguished architects.

The addition, covered in a rare brown granite that was quarried in Saudi Arabia and fabricated in Italy, was designed as an understated backdrop for the 1961 building, complementing its exterior of creamy Texas shell stone. The result is a stunning yet functional structure of timeless design that provides expansive areas not only for the display and storage of the collection but also for research, education, membership activities and other programs.

For more information about the Amon Carter Museum or to receive a Reopening Media Kit, please call Carol Noel, public relations coordinator, at 817.738.1933, ext. 283, or e-mail carol.noel@cartermuseum.org.