Monday, January 04, 2016

North Carolina's Bust of Calhoun

   Last week, I was in Raleigh, visiting the North Carolina Museum of History to see Leonardo da Vinci's Codex Leicester. After we finished ogling the centuries-old text, we wandered over to the other building to see various pieces of old and new art. On display was a bust of John C. Calhoun, a U. S. Senator from South Carolina and seventh vice president of the United States. The tag on the display said it was presented to the state of North Carolina in 1861.

   So, I went searching for some further notes on the bust and Calhoun.  It seems the bust was carved by Hiram Powers. He was born in Vermont in 1805, and moved to Ohio at the age of 14. After learning clock and organ repair, Powers studied in the studio of Frederick Eckstein. In 1834, Powers moved to Washington, D.C., and a few years later, to Florence, Italy, becoming known as a leading European neoclassical sculptor.

   In 1859, Wharton J. Green commissioned Powers to produce a bust of Calhoun. Two years later, Wharton presented the bust to the state of North Carolina. The letter read:

   "By her late decisive action in severing all political connexion [sic] with a despotic and inimical Government, our State has proven her devotion to the theory of the Confederate system as expounded by this illustrious apostle of States' Rights, and given a practical endorsation[sic]  to his views respecting the ultimate mode and measures of redress of State grievances. Hence, Sir, it seems to me meet and proper that inasmuch as he may be assumed to have contributed most of all of our great political teachers to the now almost universally received opinions in this respect, that he has thereby made good his claim to the honor of a niche in the Capitol of a sister state. I therefore beg the acceptance by the Convention, over the deliberations of which you so worthily preside, of the aforesaid slight memorial, for and in behalf of the State."

   "Trusting that the daily contemplation of the mute semblance of the exalted and incorruptible Senator, may inspire our legislators through all time to come with the noble ambition to emulate his unswerving self sacrificing patriotism, and to imitate his many other virtues, public and private..." (THe Raleigh Register June 15, 1861)

      The bust was located in the capitol building, standing on a mantle, for many years, before being transferred to the Hall of History, ca.1914. Later, in 1956, it was moved to the North Carolina Museum of Art.

   This bust was not the only honor to Calhoun related to North Carolina. A few months earlier, Mitchell County was created from portions of Yancey and Watauga Counties. Their first county seat was known as Calhoun, in honor of the statesman. Maybe state lawmakers, gazing upon Calhoun there in Raleigh, might have found their inspiration from Power's creation. But, that is entirely speculation on my part. 

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