Edward Kemeys (1843 - 1907) was born in Savannah, Georgia but spent his youth in New York City. He received no early formal training in art and was for the most part a self-taught artist. His first job was as an iron worker until the outbreak of the Civil War. Kemeys served in the Union Army during the Civil War attaining the rank of Captain of Artillery. After the war he traveled to Illinois and became a farmer, a venture that failed after just a few years.
Kemeys moved back to New York City and was employed in the construction of Central Park. This is when he first became interested in animals at the Central Park Zoo. It was here by chance that he happened upon someone modeling a wolf's head at the zoo and decided to try sculpture himself. His first sculpture titled The Hudson Bay Wolves was so successful that in 1872 it was commissioned as a monument in Philadelphia's Fairmount Park.
After this first success Kemeys used the money he made to travel to the Far West where he studied the wild animals of North America, pursuing them like a hunter with brush and paper instead of powder and lead. When his funds ran out he returned to New York City where he opened a small studio. It was there that he created some of his finest sculpture and exhibited them at the Philadelphia Centennial Exposition in 1876.
In the following year he traveled to Paris to study sculpture with the French masters and was to exhibit his model of Bison and Wolves at the Paris Salon of 1878 receiving critical acclaim. Kemeys was very disappointed both by Paris and the art schools, having a distaste for the formal, confining form of modeling zoo animals which he considered lifeless. He returned to the United States in 1879 where he continued to study animals both alive and dissecting dead ones to gain the intimate knowledge of their bone and muscle structure. His model of Still Hunt was purchased by New York City and erected in Central Park.
Kemeys moved to Chicago in 1892 where he had his studio which he called Wolfden and continued to travel to the West annually for inspiration. Edward Kemeys exhibited twelve sculptures at the 1893 Worlds Colombian Exposition in Chicago and fifteen sculptures at the 1904 Louisiana Purchase Exposition in St. Louis, winning medals at both fairs. In 1900 he moved to Washington DC where he lived until his death. His last work was a large outdoor fountain in Champagne Illinois of a panther, a deer, and an Indian, one of the few examples of his use of a human subject in sculpture.
Edward Kemeys was the first American Animalier and a powerful inspiration to the following generation of American sculptors, many of whom sought him out personally and admired his work
The life of Edward Kemeys is documented in the following books:
The Animaliers by James Mackay (1973)
Animals in Bronze by Christopher Payne (1986)
American Sculpture by The Metropolitan Museum of Art (1965)
Dictionary of American Sculptors by Glenn Opitz
Masters of American Sculpture by Donald M. Reynolds
Bronzes of the American West by Patricia Broder (1973)
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