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 Walker Kirtland Hancock  (1901 - 1998)

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Lived/Active: Massachusetts/Missouri / Italy      Known for: portrait statue and monument sculpture, medallic art

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Ad Code: 3
AskART Artist
from Auction House Records.
Ahti: portrait of a Young Man
Artwork images are copyright of the artist or assignee
This biography from the Archives of AskART:
Born in St. Louis, Missouri, Walker Hancock was a sculptor of allegorical* figures, portrait statues, and commemorative monuments.  As a young man, he spent a year at the School of Fine Arts at Washington University and then transferred to the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts* to study with Charles Grafly. At the Academy he won the Edmund Stewardson Prize in 1921, and in 1922 and 1923, the William Cresson Traveling Scholarships*, which enabled him to travel through Europe. In 1925, he won the George D. Widener Memorial Gold Medal for the Bust of Toivo. That same year, he began three years of study at the American Academy in Rome*, having received the Prix de Rome*, and during this time, he traveled extensively in Europe.

He was a teacher at the Pennsylvania Academy* from 1929 to 1968, having taken the position of his mentor, Charles Grafly, who had died in an automobile accident in 1929.  However, Hancock's teaching at the Academy was interrupted by service during World War II when he played a leadership role as one of the "Monuments Men", those who rescued artwork stolen and hidden in salt mines by the Nazis. He also won the national competition to design the Air Medal (1942), established by President Franklin D. Roosevelt for "any person who, while serving in any capacity in the Army, Navy, Marine Corps or Coast Guard of the United States subsequent to September 8, 1939, distinguishes, or has distinguished, himself by meritorious achievement while participating in an aerial flight."

Three weeks before being shipped overseas in 1943, Hancock married Saima Natti at the National Cathedral in Washington DC, where he later would make major additions including the bas relief, Christ in Majesty, over the High Altar and a life-size statue of Abraham Lincoln.

A major commission was the Pennsylvania Railroad War Memorial, 30-feet high, completed 1950, and located at the 30th Street Station in Philadelphia.  It is a tribute to 1,307 railroad employees who lost their lives in World War II, and depicts the archangel Michael, the angel of Resurrection, lifting upward the figure of a dead soldier.  From 1956 to 1957, he returned to the American Academy in Rome, this time as a sculptor in residence.

In 1964, Walter Hancock took over supervision of the Confederate Memorial at Stone Mountain, Georgia. This project had been started in 1917 by Gutzon Borglum, but he had abandoned the project in 1925. (Borglum went on to design and carve Mount Rushmore.) No work had been done since 1928. Hancock's chief carver, Roy Faulkner, completed the project in 1972.

During 1965-1966, Hancock worked at a Trappist monastery in Kentucky where he created a sculpture group, The Garden of Gethsemani. On one side of a forest glade, a kneeling figure of Christ, seen from behind, agonizes about offering himself up for sacrifice, while on the other side his disciples, Peter, James, John, lie asleep. This is a memorial to Jonathan Daniels, an Episcopal seminarian murdered during the Civil Rights Movement. A duplicate of the two-part work is at Trinity Episcopal Church, Topsfield, Massachusetts; and a duplicate of Christ Praying is at the Episcopal Divinity School, Cambridge, Massachusetts.

Hancock's portrait statues include General Douglas MacArthur for the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, John Paul Jones for Fairmount Park in Philadelphia, and James Madison for the Library of Congress in Washington D.C.  He also created the bust of President George Walker Bush for the Rotunda of the U.S. Capitol Building.

From 1930 onwards, Hancock kept a studio in Gloucester, Massachusetts, where Charles Grafly had invited him as a guest in the late 1920s.  Hancock retired to Gloucester, and lived there with his wife, Saima, who died in 1984. He outlived her by fourteen years, dying in December, 1998.

Among his recognitions were the National Medal of Arts, 1989, and the Medal of Freedom, 1990.  The Cape Ann Historical Association (Gloucester, MA) mounted a 1989 retrospective exhibition of his works, and in 1997, published his autobiography, A Sculptor's Fortunes.

Walter Hancock endowed the Walker Hancock Prize, given for excellence in the arts, and The National Sculpture Society* has an annual prize named for him. His papers are at the Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution

"The Amber Room: Art and World War II, Monuments Men: Walter Hancock"

American Art Review
, October 1997

Donald Martin Reynolds, Masters of American Sculpture

Peter Hastings Falk, Editor, Who Was Who in American Art

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