When conceptualizing a large-scale work, artists often start by making a smaller model or maquette in an easy to sculpt medium such as clay. Often, plaster casts of the original model are produced by making a mold of the piece, and pouring fresh plaster into it, which, after the plaster dries and the mold is removed, creates an exact copy of the original.
At the end of the Civil War (1861–65) there was an effort to promote an American Renaissance and to beautify cities with civic monuments and public sculpture. Artists such as Randolph Rogers and Thomas Ball were commissioned to produce memorials that addressed themes of war and slavery and to commemorate military heroes, from the common soldier to President Abraham Lincoln himself. The plaster casts by Rogers (whose Nydia, The Blind Flower Girl of Pompeii and Bust of George Washington after Houdin are also in the Museum’s collection) and Ball displayed here were maquettes for Civil War monuments; these frequently depicted Lincoln as the “Great Emancipator,” freeing a slave and establishing peace and unity.
Other nineteenth-century works focused on domestic scenes that highlighted happier aspects of American life. Many of John Rogers’ sculptures depict genre scenes infused with sentiment and a touch of humor. Rogers worked directly in clay from live models (often his wife, children, and friends). He mass-produced affordable plaster copies of his most popular pieces, and his works soon became a necessity in the Victorian parlor.