Powers, Hiram

Powers, Hiram,

1805–73, American sculptor, b. Woodstock, Vt. Having moved to Ohio, he made wax models for a Cincinnati museum. In 1835 he began his career as a sculptor, spending some time in Washington, D.C., where he modeled several portrait busts, including one of President Jackson (Metropolitan Mus.). In 1837 he went to Florence to study classical art. There he flourished to the end of his life. His Greek Slave (1843) became the most popular statue of the period in Europe and the United States. The second of several copies is in the Corcoran Gallery. His sculptures of Franklin and Jefferson are in the Capitol, Washington, D.C.


See S. E. Crane, White Silence (1972).

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Powers, Hiram

(1805–73) sculptor; born in Woodstock, Vt. He and his family settled in Cincinnati, Ohio, where, starting at age 17, he worked in a clock and organ factory. In 1829 he went to work for the Western Museum to install mechanisms in the displays for their "chamber of horrors," but he discovered he had a talent for sculpting the wax figures and this led him to do portrait busts of Cincinnati worthies. He moved to Washington, D.C., in 1834 and was soon making plaster portrait busts of leading figures including President Andrew Jackson and Chief Justice John Marshall. Wealthy patrons financed his move to Florence, Italy, in 1837, originally to improve his artistic skills, but he would stay there for the rest of his life, his home and studio eventually becoming a mecca for many prominent Americans. In 1843 he completed his life-size marble nude woman called The Greek Slave and it quickly became one of the best-known and most controversial statues of the century, praised by artists and writers but condemned by preachers and prudes. None of his subsequent works would ever gain the same attention, but his bronze statue of Daniel Webster was placed in front of the Massachusetts State House and his marble statues of Benjamin Franklin and Thomas Jefferson were placed in the U.S. Capitol. He did other monumental statues but is best known for his many marble portrait busts.
The Cambridge Dictionary of American Biography, by John S. Bowman. Copyright © Cambridge University Press 1995. Reproduced with permission.