Friday, January 8, 2021

The Wild Woman Sculptor of President Lincoln

The 17-year-old who Sculpted Abraham Lincoln
By Jacqui Nelson

Happy New week after the day! The start of a New Year (or even the start of a new month or week) is a great time to make resolutions or create lists of dreams/goals we want to achieve. I believe that planning how I will achieve my dreams/goals is essential. So is embracing (as much as I can without exhausting myself completely) the mindset of a go-getter. 

What or who is a go-getter? Well, I think Vinnie Ream definitely was one. Read on and be inspired (as I was) by the go-getter who was the daughter of a land surveyor but still found a way to sculpt Abraham Lincoln when she was only seventeen...

Lavinia Ellen "Vinnie" Ream
born 1847 in Madison, Wisconsin ) 

As a child, Vinnie Ream moved frequently due to her father's job as a land surveyor. When she was seven, her family moved to Kansas, and she was sent to school in St. Joseph, Missouri. Three years later, she attended Christian College in Columbia, Missouri. In 1858, she rejoined her parents in Fort Smith, Arkansas. 

In 1861, her family moved to Washington, D.C. in search of new employment. As her father's health continued failing, Vinnie started working to support her family. 

She was one of the first women employed by the U.S. federal government. From 1862 to 1866, she processed undeliverable mail in the U.S. postal system's dead letter office. She also sang in church and in hospitals and spent the rest of her time studying statues at the U.S. Capitol and in public squares—while dreaming of becoming a sculptor.

Vinnie with her bust of Lincoln

In 1863, she used a contact from her Christian College days (who was now a U.S. Congressman) to gain an introduction to the sculptor Clark Mills. The following year, at the age of seventeen, she became an apprentice in Mills' studio.

That same year, President Lincoln agreed to model for her in the mornings for five months. During this time, she created a bust of Lincoln's figure and also (as a marketing strategy) sold photographs of herself and solicited newspaper attention.

A year later in 1865, she became the youngest artist and first woman to receive a commission from the U.S. government for a statue. She used her bust of Lincoln as her entry into the selection contest for a full-size statue of Lincoln. 

Significant debate ensued over her selection due to her inexperience and the slanderous accusations that she was a woman of questionable reputation—known for her beauty, conversational skills, and zest for public relations.

In 1871 when she was 23 years old, her Carrara marble statue of President Lincoln was unveiled in the U.S. Capitol rotunda. 

Vinnie and her Lincoln statue

In 1875, George Armstrong Custer sat with her for a portrait bust. In 1876, she exhibited at the Centennial Exposition. In 1877, she produced a model for a Lee statue in Richmond. And, after lobbying William Tecumseh Sherman and Mrs. Farragut, she won a competition to sculpt Admiral David G. Farragut. 

She designed the first free-standing statue of a Native American (Sequoyah, the inventor of the Cherokee alphabet) to be placed in Statuary Hall at the Capitol. The town of Vinita, Oklahoma (established by the Cherokee attorney and politician, Elias Cornelius Boudinot) was named in her honor. 

Yup, Vinnie Reams definitely is my idea of a go-getter. Of course, going after (and getting) what you want helps if you have the gift of the gab, which it sounds like Vinnie definitely had as well. 

I'd love to hear your dreams/goals for this year. Hope you'll share ❤️

Three of my dreams/goals for 2021 are... 

1) take a walk at least every second day, so that (if the world allows) I can go on the Kenya/Tanzania safari camping trip (I had to postpone last year) and be fit enough to really enjoy it 

2) let go of what I can't control (just say no to negative thoughts) 

3) keep my mind focused on finishing writing my story-in-progress, A Bride for Griffin 🙂

~ * ~

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kathleen Lawless said...

What a fascinating woman she was. thanks for this.

Jacqui Nelson said...

You're welcome, Kathleen. I love searching for and sharing these amazing real-life stories!