Measured Perfection: Hiram Powers’ Greek Slave

Exhibition Website

Jul 3 2015 - Jul 9 2017

This one-gallery exhibition reveals the inner workings of the studio of Hiram Powers (1805–1873), who was among the most innovative sculptors of the 19th-century, eagerly adapting long-standing sculpture traditions to new technologies of his age.

The display draws from an extensive collection acquired by the Smithsonian American Art Museum directly from Powers’ studio in Florence, Italy, in 1968. Finished and unfinished artworks and a selection of tools reveal Powers’ creative process and ingenious experiments, including the highly controversial practice of bodycasting. A key object in the exhibition is the life-size plaster of Powers’Greek Slave, the most highly acclaimed sculpture of the 19th-century -- so famous that Powers applied for a U.S. patent on the composition.

This example of theGreek Slave is studded with the metal points in preparation for replication by the pointing machine—a clever, patented mechanical device used to translate plaster models into multiple marble replicas. A daguerreotype of the Greek Slave and Parian porcelain reduction illustrate the reproduction of this popular sculpture in other formats during Powers’ lifetime. X-radiographs of this unique plaster, recently made at the museum’s Lunder Conservation Center, demonstrate ways in which scholarship relies on current technology to interpret the past.

Whether you go or not:  Hiram Powers: Vermont Sculptor, 1805-1873 : Catalogue of Works  provides a detailed account of the life and career of Hiram Powers (1805-73), the first American-born sculptor to win international fame. Drawing mainly on his correspondence, volume one focuses on the artist's life; and volume two consists of a catalogue of his work and contains more than 225 illustrations. Corrects numerous errors of fact that have been perpetuated about Powers.

  • Sculpture
  • American
  • 19th Century
  • Hiram Powers

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