The Best Sculptor You’ve Never Heard Of

I was catching up on reading while traveling and I ran across the story of artist/sculptor Vinnie Ream.

You’ve never heard of her?  Ms. Ream went to work at the age of 15 as a Dead Letter clerk in the Washington, D.C. post office during the Civil War.  According to How the Post Office Created America by Winifred Gallagher, one day she came upon a sculptor, picked up some clay, and discovered she had a natural talent for sculpting.  She apprenticed under Clark Mills and went on to become the youngest artist and first woman to receive a government commission for a statue — a full-size marble work of Abraham Lincoln by a vote of Congress on July 28, 1866; she was eighteen years old.  Of course, being a very young lady, nothing came easily.  Her Wikipedia entry claims she was described during the lengthy debate over the commission as “a public woman of questionable reputation”; later she was almost thrown out of the Capitol because Senator Edmund G. Ross, who cast the deciding vote against the impeachment of President Andrew Johnson, boarded with her family and she was accused of somehow influencing his vote; and when she traveled to Rome to produce the finished marble figure (after the plaster model was approved) she had to face rumors that Italian workmen had actually completed the statue.  Nevertheless, her white marble statue of President Lincoln was unveiled in the United States Capitol rotunda on January 25, 1871.  She was still only 23 years old.

She opened a studio in New York, then in Washington, D.C., and continued to sculpt until she married Richard L. Hoxie on May 28, 1878.  According to Winifred Gallagher’s account, she gave up art at age thirty at her husband’s insistence (although Wikipedia does list some works after her marriage date).

Such are the travails of Nineteenth Century women!  But she has received some recognition.  A stamp was issued in her honor and  Vinita, Oklahoma, was named after her.  And her memory is literally carved in stone.


Her Wikipedia entry is .  The photo came from that site.

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