An appreciation of Academy Green’s statues

(Photo by Dan Barton)

(Photo by Phyllis McCabe)

George Clinton (1739-1812), Peter Stuyvesant (c.1612-1672), and Henry Hudson (1570-1611) are familiar bronze figures gracing Academy Park in Kingston. How fitting that these three early statesmen are memorialized in the original capital of New York.

Yet, that was not the original intention. The sculptures first appeared on the Corn Exchange Bank building façade at 52 Broadway in New York City in 1898. Cast by the foundry, Gorham Manufacturing Company in 1898, the 11-foot-tall bronzes later were removed and sent a junkyard in Brooklyn when the Corn Exchange Bank was remodeled. The appalling fate of our American statesmen, including a sculpture of General James Wolfe (1727-1759), was written about in The New York Times in 1943. The article persuaded one reader, Emily Crane Chadbourne, to rescue three of the bronzes. Wolfe was privately saved and sent to Canada; the other three were presented to and officially accepted by Ulster County. With the aid of landscape architect Alfred Gieffert, new bases were created for the sculptures and they were re-dedicated in June 1950 at Academy Green.

Standing proud and poised, each colossal statue in traditional costume is portrayed with a baroque flourish of garment and gesture. The idealized portraits are distinguished by individual characteristics, such as Peter Stuyvesant’s wooden leg.

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What do we know of the sculptor? Though famous and well sought after in his lifetime, there are few documents and sources to be found today about John Massey Rhind (1860-1936). At the Kingston Academy Green, the visitor looks hard to find the sculptor’s name. The bronze foundry name is more readily visible. Aside from the Art Inventories Catalog of the Smithsonian American Art Museum (SIRIS), a few web sites and periodicals, the best book is Famous Sculptors of America (N.Y.: Dodd, Mead & Co.) written in 1924 by is by J. Walker McSpadden. This was well before the removal of the sculptures to Kingston. 

John Massey Rhind was from a family of sculptors and architects. His father, John Rhind, was a prominent sculptor in Edinburgh, Scotland. Born in Edinburgh on July 9, 1860, the young Rhind was sent to study in London and Paris, winning several scholarships including to the Royal Academy. Early commissions were figures for public buildings, where sculpture formed an integral part of the architecture. He moved to America in 1889, just after his marriage, settling in New York City prior to the Chicago World’s Fair. A long list of works done for public buildings, fountains, memorials include sculptures done for Grant’s Tomb, Riverside Park, in New York City. Rhind’s work appears in Ohio, Tennessee and Pittsburgh — where more works and sources can be found at the Carnegie Institute. Rhind produced many portrait sculptures: Andrew Carnegie in Pittsburgh, George Washington and horse in Newark, New Jersey, John Wanamaker in Philadelphia, William McKinley in Niles, Ohio, to list a few.

These beautiful sculptures adorn and add dignity to this historic city. They should be carefully preserved with equal pride.

The Kingston Sculpture Biennial has brought greater local attention to sculpture. More public sculpture should be purchased or bestowed to the city’s historical sites. Perhaps the next Biennial will offer something to Kingston’s permanent art collection.

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