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 Karl Gerhardt  (1853 - 1940)

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Lived/Active: Connecticut/Louisiana      Known for: sculptor-portrait

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Ad Code: 4
Karl Gerhardt
from Auction House Records.
bust of Ulysses S. Grant
Artwork images are copyright of the artist or assignee
This biography from the Archives of AskART:
Born in Boston on January 7, 1853, Karl Gerhardt was destined for fame as a sculptor of Ulysses S. Grant, Mark Twain, and a number of other famous men of that time. Early reports of Gerhardt's work history indicate he was a machinist at the Ames Foundry in Chicopee, Massachusetts--a company that specialized in building Civil War cannons during the conflict between the Union and Confederacy. The company turned its attention to casting memorials to fallen soldiers after the war ended.

He married Harriet Josephine Gloyd, who worked hard to further his career and was successfully persistent in arousing the interest and financial support of Mark Twain for her husband's work. The couple settled in Hartford, Connecticut where Gerhardt was employed as chief mechanic at the Pratt and Whitney Machine Tool Company, a company that was working to perfect the Paige typesetter.

In his free time, Gerhardt dabbled in art and sculpting statues of Hattie who served as his model. She was determined that the famous "Mark Twain" who lived in a mansion in the prestigious Nook Farm community of Hartford accompany her home and admire a sculpture her husband Karl had just completed. He was both impressed by Hattie's charm and her husband's skill.

Based upon positive appraisals of Gerhardt's potential by noted experts James Wells Champney and John Quincy Adams Ward, Clemens and his wife Olivia agreed to personally finance Gerhardt's education. A sum of $3,000 was initially agreed upon for financing five years of training in at the prestigious Ecole des Beaux-Arts in Paris.

Clemens advised that before departing, Gerhardt should become acquainted with noted sculptor Augustus St. Gaudens in New York. St. Gaudens advised Gerhardt to enroll in a preparatory school before entering the prestigious school in Paris. However, Gerhardt had confidence in his own ability and felt prep school was not necessary.

The Gerhardts arrived in Paris on March 17, 1881, and Gerhardt immediately began instructions in art under Francois Jouffroy (1806-1882), St. Gauden's former teacher. Within a few months Gerhardt requested additional funding from Clemens to pay for live models--the study of which helped propel him to a higher ranking in his class. Clemens continued to hire private instructors for Karl and in the spring of 1882 he agreed to fund drawing lessons for Hattie as well. Gerhardt continually updated Clemens about his progress and gave his wife three-fourths of all credit for his accomplishment.

In Paris in March 1883, Olivia Gerhardt was born and named for Samuel Clemens' wife, Olivia. With the birth of his daughter and the realization that Clemens' financial support would eventually come to an end, Gerhardt began to explore obtaining commissions back in the United States. In July 1884, he returned to America in July 1884 with the goal of obtaining commissions.

The following month Gerhardt was working to complete a bust of Mark Twain which would later be used as a frontispiece for the first edition of Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. When the first bust was accidentally destroyed after four weeks of hard work Gerhardt went immediately to work and constructed a better likeness in a matter of days.

In the fall of 1884 Gerhardt began jockeying with competitors for the assignment of creating a statue of Nathan Hale for the state capitol building at Hartford. He requested Clemens' help in gaining the commission over the other leading candidate Hartford sculptor Enoch S. Woods. In March 1885 the official choice was made, and Gerhardt was awarded the commission. The following year--March 1886, Gerhardt begged Clemens to loan him $3,000 he needed in order to complete Nathan Hale. Gerhardt's statue of Nathan Hale was cast in bronze in December 1886. Gerhardt received $5,000 (approximately $92,000 in year 2000 dollars.)

In March of 1885, Twain's own publishing house Webster and Company was engaged in publishing the memoirs of General U. S. Grant who was dying of throat cancer. On March 20, 1885, Twain and Gerhardt went to the General's home in New York and showed him a clay bust made by Gerhardt, which he subsequently made into a likeness of the former President.

Clemens made arrangements for the mass producing and selling of the Grant replicas, which were were sold by subscription--a method of selling that Twain had used for selling his books. Terra cotta busts were sold for $10.00 and bronze (only 100 were made, and they were numbered) for $50.00. Evidence indicates that the sale of Grant busts did not prove to be a financial success. When Grant died, Gerhardt, again supported by Clemens, also did the death mask, and Frank Leslie's Illustrated Newspaper featured a cover article with Gerhardt at work on the mask.

However, no written contract existed between Gerhardt and Grant's family concerning the death mask, and a bitter dispute ensued over the ownership rights. Clemens intervened and settled the matter so that the ownership rights belonged to the Grant family.

Throughout the latter half of the 1880s Gerhardt had received commissions for memorial statues in Connecticut, New Jersey, New York, Massachusetts, Vermont, and at Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. Competition among designers and architects for the job of creating Civil War memorials was fierce.

Karl and Hattie's son Lawrence was born in 1890--at a time when Gerhardt's flow of commissions was slowing. By mid 1891, Clemens' financial situation, due to poor business investments related to the Paige typesetting machine, had forced him to close his Hartford mansion and take his family to live abroad. The small number of letters to Clemens and his attorney Franklin Whitmore that survive after 1890 indicate Gerhardt was himself in financial difficulties attempting to cash in a life insurance policy on himself that Clemens held as well as his recover his investment in the Paige typesetter.

Surviving correspondence in the Connecticut State Library indicates Gerhardt did work occasionally for inventor Francis H. Richards during the years 1895-1897. On several occasions Hattie Gerhardt also wrote to Richards requesting favors of work or recommendations for her husband. In 1895 Gerhardt's letterheads indicated he was in partnership with architect Walter Sanford. In 1897, Gerhardt's letterheads indicate he was employed in Hartford at the Pope Manufacturing Company, a company known for building some of the first bicycles in America. Francis Richards assisted Gerhardt in filing a patent on an automatic wrench and on June 3, 1897, Gerhardt was awarded his wrench patent. It was the same day Hattie Gerhardt died of a tetanus infection.

Hattie was buried in Indian River Cemetery in Bloomfield, Connecticut. After Hattie's death, Gerhardt as a sculptor begins to disappear from the historical record. The exact date of his departure from Connecticut has not been firmly established. In 1906, he was living in New Orleans, and the 1908 edition of Soard's New Orleans City Directory listed Karl Gerhardt residing at 1229 Burgundy street. His occupation was listed as "bartender." On January 14, 1909, the New Orleans Times Democrat reported that the sculptor of U. S. Grant's death mask was living in obscurity within the city and engaged "in earning his living by hard work whenever it is obtainable."

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