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 Martha Jackson Cornwell  (1865 - 1955)

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Lived/Active: Pennsylvania      Known for: sculptor-portrait, bas relief

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Ad Code: 4
AskART Artist
from Auction House Records.
Cast of a young girl and a turtle
Artwork images are copyright of the artist or assignee
This biography from the Archives of AskART:
The following is from Phebe Hemphill, an artist and granddaughter of
Gibbons Grey Cornwell, nephew of Martha Jackson Cornwell.

Martha Jackson Cornwell was born in West Chester, PA, the daughter of
Robert Thompson Cornwell and Lydia Jackson in 1865. She began her early
training in art at the Philadelphia School of Design for Women (later
Moore College of Art) in 1888. In 1892 she received the George W. Childs
Medal which was awarded "for the greatest progress during the year, and
close and constant study." In 1893 she assisted in the production of a
school exhibit that received an Honorable Mention at the World's
Columbian Exposition in Chicago.

Beginning in 1891 until 1902 she continued her artistic studies at the Art Students League in NYC under Kenyon Cox, Arthur W. Dow and most notably Augustus Saint-Gaudens, the foremost American sculptor of the time. While she was a student, Martha assisted Saint-Gaudens and helped fashion details of his monumental Shaw Memorial for Boston, which took some 15 years to complete. In 1895 Saint-Gaudens said she was ready to get started in a studio of her own, which she did in the old Rembrandt Building next door to Carnegie Hall.

In late 1897 she was commissioned to create a fountain for the New Century Club in West Chester, PA. It was to be a drinking fountain at a spring on North High Street which would be a tempting invitation to the traveler and his beast of burden. The subject of the statue was suggested by reading the book "The Cup of Loving Service" by Eliza D. Taylor. That winter an 8 year old New York boy posed for Martha while she modeled him for the fountain. While the sculpture was still in plaster it was exhibited in the third National Sculpture Society show at the Vanderbilt Gallery, W. 57th St. among fine work by many of America's best sculptors, including Daniel Chester French who passed favorable criticism on it.

The sculpture was cast by the Henry-Bonnard Bronze Foundry and erected on the site in 1898 with funding by P. M. Sharpless. Sadly, the fountain, which was inscribed "For Ready and Willing Service", was stolen from its granite base in 1956, a year after the death of Martha Cornwell.

Martha traveled to Europe in 1903. In 1904, in a dispatch from New
York, the United Press reported:

"Martha Jackson Cornwell, a West Chester girl, sculptor in the Rembrandt studios here, and who worked for a number of years with Auguste St. Gaudens, and whose studies in Europe gave her experience in Florence, Paris, Rome, Vienna, and Berlin, has just completed a dainty bas relief in chaplain style, which instantly created most favorable comment and high encomiums in leading art circles here.

At a reception here in the studio Monday evening her masterpiece was
given its first private view, and unveiled with flattering remarks by Edmund Clarence Stedman, the literateur. The sentiment of the bas relief is entitled, "Music Coming as a Ray of Light to Those Who Never Saw the Sun." It is inscribed to the work of the Committee on Tickets for the blind, of which Mrs. Seth Low is chairman, the Committee being made up of most prominent New York women from exclusive social and artistic circles, who procure entertainment for unfortunate blind in this city.

Miss Cornwell has just executed also a bas relief of Richard Henry Stoddard, poet and critic, also a son of Carl Shurz. She designed the New Century Fountain in West Chester, a bas relief of the blind, dedicated to Miss Winfred Holt, daughter of Henry Holt, a leading publisher.

Miss Cornwell's artistic success in New York is now assured. Her studio
is filled with orders from prominent society patrons."

Throughout the early 1900's Martha exhibited works alongside many great
artists of the time at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts,
Philadelphia as well as in New York, Chicago, and San Francisco. In
1925, Martha returned from New York to West Chester to care for her
elderly father. In 1951 she received an honorary membership from the
Chester County Art Association. She died in 1955 at the age of 90.

Martha's nephew, Gibbons Grey Cornwell Jr., researched her life and
work in the 1970's. He discovered 67 known works of sculpture by her
including portrait reliefs of prominent citizens such as George Morris
Philips, Thomas Buchanan Read, Bayard Taylor, Robert Thompson Cornwell,
Joseph T. Rothrock, Richard Henry Stoddard, a son of Carl Schurz, Mrs.
Wm. R. Derrick, Helen Logan, Ruth Anderson, Margaret Strang, Dorothy
Fish, and many children. Many of these portraits are registered with the
National Portrait Gallery- Washington, DC.

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