Among The Faces – A Sculptress

Photographs and prints from the Library of Congress can often yield some interesting surprises. This time I explored the Brady-Handy Collection, purchased from Alice H. Cox and Mary H. Evans – the daughters of Levin C. Handy by the Library of Congress in 1954. The collection includes some 10,000 images, the majority being Civil War and post-Civil War portraits. In my wanderings I barely scratched the surface, and I stopped looking when I came across an especially interesting photo of Vinnie Reams… More on her later.

The photographs were taken by Levin C. Handy (1855-1932), who apprenticed at the age of twelve to his uncle – famed Civil War photographer Mathew B. Brady (1822-1896). The Handy studio was situated in Washington, DC in a location Mathew Brady himself worked in the 1890s.

This collection includes shots of President Roosevelt in his younger years, and a portrait of Belle Boyd (1843-1900) a spy for the Confederate Army. Her nickname was Cleopatra of the Secession for her efforts at gleaning information through her charm, despite the fact that she was under surveillance by the Union Army. Of the officer she charmed into revealing secrets she once wrote, “To him, I am indebted for some very remarkable effusions, some withered flowers, and a great deal of important information.” For her contributions to the Confederate war effort she was awarded the Southern Cross of Honor.

Notable is the portrait of Mrs. Sartoris with baby for it’s unusual perspective… And for those who appreciate creative facial hair I have included Oliver Halstead and M. Davis. Another image that caught my eye is a wonderful portrait of the Senator Hiram Rhodes Revels (1827-1901), the first black person ever to sit in Congress. He was a minister of the African Methodist Episcopal Church who served as a chaplain in the Civil War. A fellow Congressman, John R. Lynch, asserts that it was a prayer Revels gave in the Mississippi state legislature that got him elected to the US Senate. Lynch said, “That prayer—one of the most impressive and eloquent prayers that had ever been delivered in the Senate Chamber—made Revels a United States Senator. He made a profound impression upon all who heard him. It impressed those who heard it that Revels was not only a man of great natural ability but that he was also a man of superior attainments.” We’ll have to keep digging to find a transcript of the prayer itself!

The photograph and story that stopped me in my tracks was of artist Vinnie Ream. Lavinia Ellen Ream Hoxie (1847-1914) was born in Wisconsin and moved with her family to Washington, DC in 1861. There she eventually worked as a clerk in the dead letter office – one of the first women to work for the federal government. By her late teens she had created numerous portrait sculptures and even had President Lincoln model for her by the time she was seventeen. In an 1866 vote in Congress she was commissioned to create a full sized marble sculpture of Lincoln, now in the US Capitol rotunda. She also designed the first free-standing sculpture of a Native American. The likeness of Sequoyah is in the Statuary Hall at the Capitol.

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