Helen Farnsworth Mears was a self-taught sculptor. Born in Oshkosh, she learned anatomy from her father and used the family woodshed as a studio. She won her first award at the age of nine, at the Winnebago County Fair, for a bust of the god Apollo. Mears studied at the Art Institute of Chicago and, at age 21, received her first commission from the State of Wisconsin to create a heroic figure for the Chicago World’s Fair. She sculpted a woman on a winged eagle and titled it The Genius of Wisconsin. Mears went on to assist famed sculptor Augustus Saint-Gaudens, working with him in New York, Paris, and Italy.
Her most famous commission is the statue of suffragist and temperance reformer Frances Willard; this piece was the first sculpture of a woman to be placed in the U.S. Capitol Building in Washington, D.C. Her other famous works include a bust of Saint-Gaudens and a bas relief of composer and pianist Edward Alexander MacDowell. But even though she was one of the most well-known sculptors of her era and was acclaimed for her skill in bas relief and monumental sculptures, Mears died destitute at the age of 43.
“Helen Farnsworth Mears.” Famous Wisconsin Women. Women’s Auxiliary, State Historical Society of Wisconsin. http://womenscouncil.wi.gov/docview.asp?docid=66.
“Helen Farnsworth Mears.” Wisconsin Visual Lifetime Achievement Awards. http://www.wvalaa.com/inductee/helen-farnsworth-mears-20.
“Helen Farnsworth Mears.” Encyclopedia Britannica. http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/371660/Helen-Farnsworth-Mears.
“Helen Farnsworth Mears (1872 – 1916).” Museum of Wisconsin Art. http://www.wisconsinart.org/archives/artist/helen-farnsworth-mears/profile-103.aspx.
Photo courtesy of the Wisconsin Historical Society archives, Image ID 2902.