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Hiram Powers papers, 1819-1953, bulk 1835-1883

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Erin Corley
Scope and Contents
The papers of sculptor Hiram Powers measure 12.4 linear feet and date from 1819 to 1953, with the bulk of the material dating from 1835 to 1883. Over two-thirds of the collection consists of Powers' correspondence, which is particularly rich in documenting his artwork, methodology, and his interaction with business associates, purchasers of his artwork, and his numerous friends in the United States and Florence, Italy. Other papers include scattered biographical material, writings by Powers and others, financial and legal records, news clippings and printed items, photographs of Powers, his family, artwork, as well as an extensive collection of carte de visite and cabinet card portraits of many notable figures. Also found is a small amount of artwork by Powers and others, a scrapbook, and two autograph and memorabilia albums.
Biographical material consists of documents for honors conferred on Powers, price lists and inventories of his artwork, papers regarding his death, including a translation of his will, and ephemera, such as his studio cap.
The bulk of the collection consists of Powers' correspondence with family, friends, business associates, and others, documenting his career as an artist and his personal life after he and his family moved to Florence, Italy, in 1837. Almost all of the letters have typed unconfirmed transcriptions completed by volunteers at the Smithsonian American Art Museum. Besides details of his studio work and business dealings, his letters often discuss his views on aesthetics, American politics, slavery and the Civil War, and Spiritualism. Notable correspondence is with William B. Astor, Edward Everett, Samuel York Atlee, William and E. Clementine Kinney, George P. Marsh, George Peabody, Presidents Andrew Jackson and John Quincy Adams, William Cullen Bryant, Elizabeth Barrett Browning, John C. Calhoun, Thomas Crawford, John A. Dix, Asher Durand, Charles Francis Fuller, Henry Peters Gray, Horace Greeley, George P. A. Healy, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, Samuel F. B. Morse, W. W. Story, John Sartain, Frances Trollope, and Daniel Webster.
Writings by Powers include his "Studio Memorandum," a journal-type notebook he kept from 1841 to 1845, which contains dated notations of letters written, receipts and expenditures, business contacts, works in progress, commissions and price quotations for work, comments on problems encountered during studio work, and other notes. Additional writings include poetry and autobiographical essays and instructions for handling his sculptures. Writings by others include poetry, most of which was written in praise of Powers' artwork. Of note are handwritten transcripts of poems by Elizabeth Barrett Browning, Bayard Taylor, and John Quincy Adams. Also found here are short writings about Powers and his artwork.
Scattered financial and legal records in this collection include patent documents for tools invented by Powers, legal agreements, account statements, and bills and receipts. Printed material consists of news clippings, two booklets, an art association brochure, and an exhibition catalog for works by Powers.
This collection contains photographs of Hiram Powers, his family, friends, notable public figures, and artwork. Many of the photographs were taken by his son, Longworth Powers, who had a private photography studio in Florence. Included are portraits of Powers and his family, as well as a collection of 267 carte de visite and cabinet card portraits of artists, performers, politicians, writers, scientists, and other public figures, many of whom were friends with the Powers family. Other photographs depict Woodstock, Vermont, the marble quarry at Carrara, Italy, and artwork by Hiram and Preston Powers. Also found here is a photograph album kept by Louisa Powers.
Artwork consists of three drawings by Hiram Powers, including a caricature of Miner Kellogg. Also found in this collection is a scrapbook containing news clippings regarding the American tour of the sculpture Greek Slave, an autograph album belonging to Louisa Powers, and an album containing pencil drawings by Preston Powers and dried flowers collected on travels.
The Hiram Powers papers were purchased by the Smithsonian American Art Museum in 1967 from Christina Seeber, great-granddaughter of Hiram Powers which was subsequenlty transferred to the Archives of American Art in 1984. The Cincinnati Historical Society and Ohio State University also lent the Archives omaterials for microfilming in 1974.
Separated Materials
The Archives of American Art also holds materials lent for microfilming. Reel D117 contains "The Sculpture of Hiram Powers," by Paul B. Metzler. Reels 815-818 includes a "Collection of Letters from Old Residents of Cincinnati to Hiram Powers," compiled by Clara Louise Dentler. Reels 1102-1103 are comprised of an unpublished manuscript entitled "White Marble: The Life and Letters of Hiram Powers, Sculptor," by Clara Louise Dentler. Lent materials were returned to the lenders and are not described in the collection container inventory.
Related Material
Additional Hiram Powers papers are available at the Winterthur Museum.
Location of Originals
Copyprints of family photographs were donated in place of originals which were kept by Christina Seeber. Copyprints are available within the collection.
Funding for the processing and digitization of this collection was provided by the Terra Foundation for American Art. Glass plate negatives in this collection were digitized in 2019 with funding provided by the Smithsonian Women's Committee.
Processing Information
The collection received a preliminary level of processing while still located the Smithsonian American Art Museum and was microfilmed by the Archives of American Art in that arrangement on reels 675, 688, 1131-1147, 3534, and 3612. Portions of the collection received additional processing after the transfer of the papers to the Archives of American Art. The entire collection was fully processed, arranged, and described by Erin Corley in 2008-2009 and scanned in 2010 with funding provided by the Terra Foundation for American Art. Glass plate negatives re-housed in 2014 with funding provided by the Smithsonian Collections Care and Preservation Fund.