Thomas Crawford, American Sculptor

Thomas Crawford, American Sculptor

Thomas Crawford, American Sculptor

Thomas Crawford, American Sculptor

Excerpt

The life of the American sculptor Thomas Crawford is in many ways a typical American story, typical particularly of the romantic mid-nineteenth century in which it was lived. Notice how many of the necessary ingredients are present. Crawford had poor but pious parents of foreign origin. Records exist of a few uncertain but assuredly humble childhood experiences, incapable of much substantiation. As a youth Crawford lifted himself by his own bootstraps. He bid a touching farewell to parents, devoted sister, and friends and journeyed to distant climes for study in poverty stoically endured. Entering his life later was high romance, leading to marriage with a rich and beautiful lady. His family and his work became all-consuming interests. Hard labor sparked by native genius ultimately brought renown and largess. Too soon an early death followed, with Victorian tributes so fulsome that they obscured the measure of genuine greatness there was. Then after the unwarranted comparisons linking the man to the Titans came an equally unwarranted eclipse. At long last the pendulum has begun to swing back, bringing Crawford into the position which he deserves to occupy.

But instead of telling this story as one of rags to riches and an early grave, I should prefer to show the life of Thomas Crawford for what it really was -- a partly homespun chapter in the American intellectual rediscovery of the Old World and at the same time the account of a competent pioneer craftsman in early American sculpture, which was emerging about 1835 as an independent art form.

In May of 1835 young Thomas Crawford left his native Manhattan on a merchantman bound for Italy. If he had had at his disposal the works of innumerable art historians who have quarried his century, he would probably have been only the more firmly convinced that his long journey was . . .

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