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 Clark Mills  (1815 - 1883)

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Lived/Active: South Carolina/Louisiana/District Of Columbia      Known for: portrait sculpture, ornamental plaster, life masks

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Ad Code: 3
Clark Mills
from Auction House Records.
Hay family copy- Lincoln life mask
Artwork images are copyright of the artist or assignee
This biography from the Archives of AskART:
Clark Mills was an innovative mid 19th-century sculptor who was a modeler of life masks, an ornamental plasterer and sculptor of monumental bronzes. He is credited as the first successful American sculptor who did not study abroad, first American sculptor to cast his own bronzes, and creator of the first equestrian sculpture erected in the United States. His studios were located in Charleston, South Carolina, and Washington DC at 15th Street and Pennsylvania Avenue.

Mills was born in 1815 in Onondaga County, New York. He ran away at the age of 13 and worked at various jobs in Syracuse and New Orleans before settling in Charleston. There Mills began his artistic career, creating plaster busts based upon life masks.

In 1848 Mills successfully entered a competition for the Andrew Jackson Memorial, which was installed in Lafayette Square in Washington DC on the north portico side of the White House. Five years later, this work, the above referenced first equestrian statue made in America, was unveiled on January 8, 1853, the 38th anniversary of the Battle of New Orleans, which had secured Jackson's heroic place in American history. About 20,000 people attended the unveiling, and Stephen A. Douglas was keynote speaker.  The statue generated much prestige for Mills with special commendation being its innovative design, especially the dynamic movement of the horse. Three other Andrew Jackson equestrian statue commissions followed with installations in Nashville, Tennessee; Jacksonville, Florida; and New Orleans, Louisiana.

Success of the Jackson monuments brought Mills further U.S. government commissions including a second outdoor equestrian bronze, this one of Lieutenant George Washington, erected in the District of Columbia at Washington Circle in 1860. That same year, Mills' Statue of Freedom was installed atop the Capitol Building, having been cast in five main sections at the Maryland foundry on Bladensburg Road built by Mills to facilitate the demands for his work at the nation's capital. This facility was the country first foundry for casting monumental bronze statuary.

In 1862, Mills completed his greatest casting feat, the colossal Armed Liberty, designed by Thomas Crawford for the dome of the U.S. Capitol building and installed in 1863, despite the horrendous events of the Civil War. Also in the nation's capital by Mills was a bronze bust of Apollo, which was destroyed in the Library of Congress fire of 1882.

Mills died in 1883 and is buried in Glenwood Cemetery in Washington DC.

Mills had three sons from his first marriage, two of whom were sculptor: Theodore A. and Theophilus Mills, became sculptors, and they returned from studying in Munich to become assistants to their father at the Mills foundry. 

From a second marriage Clark Mills had a step daughter.

In World War II, a U.S. liberty ship was named SS Clark Mills in honor of the sculptor.

Matthew Baigell, Dictionary of American Artists
Peter Hastings Falk, Editor, Who Was Who in American Art

Biography from Charleston Renaissance Gallery:
CLARK MILLS (1815-1883)

No single individual is more revered by any city in the South than is Andrew Jackson by the city of New Orleans. Jackson Square, once called the Place des Armes, was renamed for him in his lifetime, and in the 1980s Jackson Day is still celebrated with parades.

On January 8, 1815, General Andrew Jackson saved the city from British domination. Already in possession of Cuba, the British planned to take New Orleans and control the waters of the Caribbean and be in a position to take all of the Mississippi Valley. To this purpose they launched their attack against New Orleans over land from the south the morning of January 8th after having unsuccessfully tried to navigate the lower Mississippi with their men-of-war. In a brilliant tactical move Jackson positioned his troops, a ragtag a collection of Kentucky and Tennessee militiamen in a line across the Villere plantation on the plain of Chalmette. Although they were outnumbered by the British two to one the Americans forcefully repelled the invasion. Three British generals were killed in the fight which lasted less than six hours. Instantly General Jackson was not only the hero of New Orleans but the hero of the War of 1812.

In 1848, three years after Jackson's death, Congress voted to erect a statue to his memory in Lafayette Park in Washington. The creator of the memorial, Clark Mills, became an overnight celebrity, whose life's story was told as early as 1854 by Hannah Lee in Familiar Sketches of Sculpture and Sculptors.

Lee described Mills as a native of Charleston, and in fact his career as a sculptor did begin there, but by all other accounts Mills' was born in Onondaga County, New York, on December 1, 1815. At the age of five he was left an orphan and went to live with a maternal uncle, who, Mills maintained, mistreated him. He ran away, worked as a millwright and eventually reached New Orleans, where he stayed about a year. By 1845 Mills was living in Charleston. There he learned how to do stucco work, which led him to experiment with plaster, and he invented a method for taking plaster casts of people's faces. A marble bust of John C. Calhoun is said to be Mill's first successful attempt at carving. It earned Mills a gold medal and was purchased by the City of Charleston in 1846 and placed in City Hall. As a consequence of this initial success, Mills was called upon; by many private citizens to do their portraits. One of these was John S. Preston of Columbia who wrote Mills asking him to come and make busts of himself and his wife. He also suggested that Colonel Wade Hampton might like busts made of himself and his daughters. All in all Mills made ten portrait busts in Columbia.

A group of men raised $1,000.00 to enable Mills to go to Italy to study, and he readily accepted their offer. A friend encouraged him to visit Washington, D.C., first to see the statuary there. On his way north, he stopped in Richmond to see Houdon's statue of George Washington in the Virginia State capitol. He got to Washington, but progressed no farther on his journey. In 1848 a committee was formed to undertake the erection of a monument to the memory of President Andrew Jackson. Mills knew the Honorable Mr. Cave Johnson, then Postmaster-General and President of the Jackson Monument Committee, and he was encouraged by him to submit a design. In a bold move for a man who had never seen an equestrian statue, much less cast anything in bronze, he produced in eight months in his Charleston studio a model for a statue which would be, according to Mills' own testimony, "not only the first equestrian statue ever self-poised on the hind feet in the world, but was also the first ever molded and cast in the United States."

Mills had to erect his studio and foundry practically on the very spot in Lafayette Park where the statue was to be erected. His commission, received from Congress, amounted to $12,000.00, but with all expenses he was out of pocket about $7,000.00 when the statue was completed in 1852. Congress more than compensated by awarding him $20,000.00 in addition to the money already paid. His raw material was also supplied by the nation. The statue was cast from the bronze of cannons taken from the British in the War of 1812.

Mills chose to show Jackson as he reviewed his troops at the Battle of New Orleans. He once described his conception as follows:

"General Jackson is there represented as he appeared on the morning of the 8th of January, forty-one years ago. He had advanced to the centre of the line in the act of review; the lines have come to present arms as a salute to their commander, who is acknowledging it by raising his chapeau, according to the military etiquette of that day. His restive horse, anticipating the next move, attempts to dash down the line; the bridle hand of the dauntless hero being turned under, shows that he is restraining the horse, whose mouth and curved neck indicate that the animal is feeling the bit."

The statue was unveiled on January 8, 1853, the thirty-eighth anniversary of the Battle of New Orleans. The orator for the occasion was Democratic Senator Stephen A. Douglas of Illinois. At the conclusion of his remarks, he introduced Mr. Mills who was so choked with emotion that he could only point to his creation, which was instantly unveiled.

Weighing in at fifteen tons and towering fourteen feet high, the statue was viewed as a wonder. Hannah Lee wrote, "In Mill's statue the horse rests naturally on his own feet and legs, being so nicely adjusted by mechanical science as to make it perfectly secure."

The New Orleans Daily Picayune reported on August 23 of that year that "M. Heyliger Secretary of the Jackson Monument Association of this city, has entered into a contract with Clark Mills, the eminent sculptor, for the erection of a colossal equestrian statue of Jackson, to be completed within three years". Mills was paid $35,000.00 for the contract, and he commenced work on the replica in his Washington studio. Casting was completed in October 1855 and assembly was to have begun immediately, so that the dedication could have occurred on January 8th of the following year. The schooner Southern, which transported the completed statue from Baltimore to New Orleans, experienced some delays so that horse and rider arrived too late for the proposed unveiling date which was rescheduled for February 8th. The New Orleans Bee reported on February 7th of the festivities to accompany the dedication of the statue: "All societies and the different bodies of trades will take part in the parade. If the weather places no obstacles in the way, it will be a day that will always remain in the memories of Orleanians. The ladies will not forget that there will be reserved seats for them in Jackson Square; they will be admitted at 10 o'clock."

Twenty-four years later the third of Mills' three Jackson statues was unveiled in Nashville on May 25, 1880. Mills' other two major commissions were for an equestrian statue of George Washington in Washington, D.C., which was dedicated on February 22, 1860. Also in 1860 he began casting the figure Freedom after Thomas Crawford's design. Completed in 1863, it stands above the dome of the United States Capitol. The latter part of Mills' life was passed in making portrait busts. He died in Washington on January 12, 1883.

Small bronze replicas of the Andrew Jackson statue were cast by the Philadelphia firm of Cornelius and Baker in 1855. A half dozen of these are known to exist today. One, donated to The New-York Historical Society in 1859, is still in that collection, while another is owned by The Historic New Orleans Collection. The manufacture and sale of these replicas attest to the instant and wide popularity of Clark Mills' image of Andrew Jackson.

This essay is copyrighted by the Charleston Renaissance Gallery and may not be reproduced or transmitted without written permission from Hicklin Galleries, LLC.

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