Little Bits of History

July 28

Posted in History by patriciahysell on July 28, 2017

1866:  Lavinia (Vinnie) Ream receives a commission. She was born on September 25, 1847. She was the youngest daughter of a surveyor in the Wisconsin Territory. Her father also operated a stage coach stop, one of Madison, Wisconsin’s first hotels. It was rustic; guests slept on the floor. Vinnie’s brother served in the Confederate army. Her family moved to Washington, D.C. in 1861 and her father’s health failed. Vinnie had attended Christian College in Missouri and was ready to help support her family. She got a job in the dead letter office of the USPS, the first woman to be employed by the US federal government. She sang at church and was artistic in other areas, as well.

In 1863, Vinnie was introduced to Clark Mills, a sculptor, and she became apprenticed to him the next year when she was 17. In 1864, President Lincoln agreed to model for the young woman, posing in the morning for her over the course of five months. She created a bust of the President. She also began an intense public relations campaign on her own behalf, selling photographs of herself, getting press notice, and generally marketing her artistic endeavors. After Lincoln was assassinated, the government looked for someone to create a statue of the late President.

On this day, at the age of 18, Vinnie was the first woman to receive an artistic commission from the United States government. She used the bust of Lincoln as her entry into the selection process. Congress awarded her efforts and she was to make a life-sized statue out of Carrara marble. There was debate over her abilities, because of her age and also because of her own marketing plans and self-advertisement. She was able to secure the commission and worked in a studio in Room A of the basement of the Capitol Building.

In 1868, President Andrew Johnson was impeached. Senator Edmund Ross boarded with the Ream’s family and cast the deciding vote against his removal. Ream was accused of influencing his vote and she and her unfinished statue were almost evicted from Washington. Powerful New York artists intervened on her behalf. Her plaster cast of the statue was approved and Vinnie then traveled to Europe to study and learn techniques to finish the work. She completed the sculpture in Rome and returned with it to Washington, D.C. it was unveiled on January 25, 1871 in the United States Capitol rotunda. Ream was 23. She went on to create many more beautiful pieces during her life. She died on November 20, 1914 at the age of 67.

All this time the personality of Lincoln was gradually sinking deeper and deeper into my soul. I was modeling the man in clay, but he was being engraven still more deeply upon my heart. – Vinnie Ream

Good painting is the kind that looks like sculpture. – Michelangelo

Sculpture is the art of the intelligence. – Pablo Picasso

The sculptor produces the beautiful statue by chipping away such parts of the marble block as are not needed – it is a process of elimination. – Elbert Hubbard