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 Ernest Moore Viquesney  (1876 - 1946)

About: Ernest Moore Viquesney
 

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Lived/Active: Indiana      Known for: sculptor-military figure

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Ad Code: 4
AskART Artist
from Auction House Records.
"Spirit of America Doughboy" Statuette
Artwork images are copyright of the artist or assignee
This biography from the Archives of AskART:
The following is from Les Kopel who writes that his source is the

"Special Doughboy Issue" of "The Chamber Monthly", Spencer, Indiana's Chamber of Commerce newsletter, published in 1991. Most of it contains articles written by T. Perry Wesley, the late Editor Emeritus of the "Spencer Evening World", who was considered to be the authority on Ernest Moore Viquesney. I don't know how or why Mr. Wesley became interested in Viquesney and his works; perhaps it was the discovery that there were dozens of copies of the "Spirit of the American Doughboy" statue, "twins" of the one in Spencer, scattered all over the country. Who was this man, Viquesney, who could so convincingly sell what some see as a "one-note" piece of sculpture to so many people? It is said the "Spirit of the American Doughboy", collectively, is the most-seen statue in the nation. Suffice it to say, what started out as a casual, part-time hobby for Mr. Wesley eventually grew into a 50-year quest, and it has not ended with his death.

The following biography is based upon material contained in the issue of "The Chamber Monthly" mentioned above. Some references are based upon an article in the Indianapolis Star, 2-19-1989. A few points are summarized from the files of Earl Goldsmith, The Woodlands, TX, who has now taken up the standard as the new Viquesney expert.

Ernest Moore "Dick" Viquesney was born August 5,1876 in Spencer, IN. His parents were second generation French immigrants who came to Spencer so the father could work as a stone and marble carver. The grandfather Viquesney had brought the family over from France, and being a stone carver, worked on the carvings of the U.S. Capitol Building, which was then under construction.

Ernest Viquesney learned his trade in his father's monument shop. As a teenager, he started a business in downtown Spencer, doing portraits. It is unknown whether he received any formal training in art or sculpture. In 1920, and again in 1934, Viquesney copyrighted what was to become his most famous and most recognized piece, a statue titled "Spirit of the American Doughboy". It depicts a WWI infantryman advancing through tree stumps and barbed wire, holding a rifle in his left hand, and a grenade in his upraised right.

Viquesney by no means limited his talents to life-size statues; he produced many miniature items, among them the "Imp-O-Luck", a Leprechaun-ish figurine adorned with horseshoe and four-leaf clovers, which was made as a statuette, necklace, tie pin, ring, ashtray, incense burner, and good luck pocket piece. A newspaper article at the time stated that in one year there were 80,000 Imp-O-Luck pieces in the mail. One of his creations, a statue of a woman titled "The Unveiling", stands over the Viquesney family burial plot in Spencer, IN.

Viquesney is also known for other war-memorial and historical statuary: "The Spirit of the American Navy" (sometimes paired with the "Spirit of the American Doughboy" at war memorial sites), "The Fighting Yank", and many, many others. But it is the "Spirit of the American Doughboy that is the most remembered of his creations. Besides the large statues, Viquesney also made small miniatures of the Doughboy statue, 10-1/2" tall, cast in what has been described as a "lead-like material" or "white metal".

Hundreds, if not thousands of them were produced and sold for an original price of six or seven dollars apiece, and were immensely popular. Today, however, they are quite rare, and sell for much higher prices to collectors, if they ever appear on the market at all. There may be only 10 or fewer left in existence. Even rarer is the "Spirit of the American Doughboy Art Lamp". Once prominently advertised in American Legion Magazine in the early 1920s as a must-have accessory for office or den, there are now known to be only three surviving complete examples of this lamp. Both the statuettes and lamps were often used by Viquesney as promotional giveaways when selling the large memorial statues.

As for Viquesney himself, little is known. He served in the Spanish-American War, and he spent the years 1905 to 1922 mostly in Americus, GA, working on Civil War monuments and using local residents as his models for the statue. He also spent some of those 20 years back in Spencer, IN, and also Peoria, IL, Atlanta, GA, and possibly other locations.

The life of an artist in Americus, GA, must have been difficult; one of Viquesney's side jobs was as the manager/projectionist for the local movie theatre. It was during his time in Americus, that Viquesney apparently did run into financial difficulties, and temporarily transferred his rights to the "Spirit of the American Doughboy" to Walter Rylander, a friend and prominent Americus businessman, and one of the models used for the statue. That is why a few of the Doughboys at some sites bear Rylander's name on the copyright.

But by January, 1926, Viquesney had re acquired the rights to the "Spirit of the American Doughboy", and moved its production to Spencer, IN, for good. There he built a workshop (with an 11-foot Imp-O-Luck on the roof), and also built a couple of other buildings in town, one of them being the Tivoli Theatre, still a Spencer landmark. He became one of the town's leading businessmen. He used many firm names, among them American Doughboy Studios, Vi-Art Studios, Imp-O-Luck Studios, and The World War Memorial Studios.

Viquesney produced many slick cards and brochures touting his creations; it is thought he wrote the ad copy himself for various publications. But he was not a good record keeper. Upon his death, no record of how many Doughboy statues he had created, nor where they were placed, existed. There was also no information as to any other pieces he created. It was only through the efforts of T. Perry Wesley, that anything at all was learned about Viquesney and his works.

Viquesney had no children. His first wife, Cora Barnes, died in 1933; his second wife, Betty Sadler, died in August, 1946. In October, 1946, Ernest Moore Viquesney was found in his garage, in his car, with the engine running. He left a note saying he could not go on without his wife, and also left plans for his funeral. Today, over 130 remaining "Spirit of the American Doughboy" statues in 38 states across the U.S. still stand in silent testament to him.
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ADDITIONAL NOTE---VIQUESNEY'S INNOVATIONS
from Les Kopel:

Besides possessing an uncanny knack for promoting his work, Viquesney was rather innovative at labor and cost-cutting measures. A 1929 ad offers his "Spirit of the American Doughboy" memorial statue in either "enduring bronze" or "beautiful, pure Italian marble". The reality, though, was that most small towns back in the 1920s couldn't raise the $9,000 - $11,000 price of a cast bronze model, and the cost of a carved marble version was out of the question altogether.

Viquesney's response to these problems was brilliant. If a town couldn't raise the cash, he would offer another less publicized and less expensive alternative. Thus, most of the Doughboy statues found around the country are not bronze casts, but rather are constructed from sheets of copper, pressed and formed from 75 different molds, and the whole lot welded together into a hollow statue weighing less than 200 pounds. The price of this creation was more affordable: $1,000 FOB from the factory, not including the base and any accessories. Some of those bases show a distinct Viquesney touch: He built many of them as hollow facades, then filled them with concrete before setting the statue on top.

A few locations do seem to have what appear to be marble Viquesney Doughboys. How could any municipality afford such an extravagance, you might ask. Simple: Viquesney molded the statues out of a medium containing pulverized marble and gypsum. After hardening and buffed to a finish, the resulting monument closely resembled a carved white marble statue in both look and color.

Fast forward to 1998: For a special Memorial Day dedication, the city of Sarasota, FL, installed a replica of the "Spirit of the American Doughboy". The statue was created by sculptor Frank Colson, who used molds made from an original Viquesney Doughboy located in Clearwater. The medium? Cast bronze. The reason? Ironically, improvements in metallurgy and casting techniques, coupled with today's high cost of labor, have made Viquesney's pioneering technique of sheet copper construction prohibitively expensive. It was cheaper to cast Sarasota's new statue in bronze.

Kopel has also created a website for this sculptor:
http://doughboy_lamp.tripod.com/




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