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Walker Kirtland Hancock
Twentieth Century , Sculptor
Born in St. Louis, Missouri, Walker Kirtland Hancock knew by grade school that sculpting would be his life's work. He was a sculptor of allegorical figures, portrait statues, and commorative monuments. As a young man, he spent a year at the School of Fine Arts at Washington University and the transferred to the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts to study with Charles Grafly, from 1921-1925. His study with Grafly influenced his handling of forms, treatment of anatomy, and impressionistic rendering of facial features. Under Grafly's infulence, he begna to "think of light and shade as the result of form." In 1921, Grafly invited him to share his Gloucester, Massachusetts studio where he was exposed to other working sculptors. While at the Academy, he wom the Edmund Stewardson Prize in 1921, and in 1922 and 1923, the William Cresson Traveling Scholarships, which enabled him to travel throughout Europe. In 1925, he won the George D. Widener Memorial Gold Medal for the Bust of Tovio. That same year, he began four years of study at the American Academy in Rome, where he immersed himself in the study of classical art throughout European.
During the 1920s and 1930s Hancock's works were primarily garden statues and fountains. When the Depression hit he was happy to find work on the Federal Triangle Project in Washington, D.C. Hancock was assigned to execute sculptures from the sketches of James Earle Fraser, Robert Aitken, and Adolph Alexander Weinman, who were in charge of the project. Hancock also designed a pediment under Weinman's direction. During the 1930s, he created other comissions: sculpture for Girard College Chapel, Philadelphia, a frieze for Kansas City, Missouri's City Hall, and four heroic groups for the St. Louis Memorial Building. He created an 8 1/2 foot Triton Fountain for the 1939 New York World's Fair.
Hancock turned to portraiture, figure studies, and architectural sculpture in the 1940s. He had a number of commisions in and around Philadelphia, including a seated marble of Judge Charles Lincoln Brown for the Municipal Court House, and a standing bronze of John Paul Jones for Fairmont Park. Perhaps most notable is the bronze War Memorial at the 30th Street Station, Angel of the Resurrection, depicting the Arhangle Michael lifting a fallen World War II serviceman.
He also had some significant comissions in Washington D.C. - Robert Frost in the National Portrait Gallery and a marble of James Madison at the Madison Building of the Library of Congress. Hancock did a depicition of Christ that is on the central altar of the Washington National Cathedral. He also did likenesses of U.S. Chief Justices Earl Warren and Warren E. Burger, and former secretary of the Treasury Andrew Mellon. The Trappist Monastery in New Haven, Kentucky is the setting of The Garden of Gethsemane from the mid-1960's.
Hancock was a teacher at the Pennsylvania Academy from 1929 to 1968, after his mentor, Charles Grafly, who previously held the position, died in an automobile accident. Hancock's teaching at the Academy was interrupted by his World War II tour. He had won he national competition to design the Air Medal in 1942, the same year he was drafted. After training time with the Medical Corps, the Army finally caught up with him, and he completed the Air Medal design. He later played a leadership role as one of the "Monuments Men", those who rescued artwork stolen and hidden in salt mines by the Nazis. He achieved the rank of Captain and, for two years, led the effort to protect national treasures and to reclaim and repatriate those works seized by the Nazi regime. For his contributions during the war, Hancock was awarded the American Service Medal, the World War II Victory Medal, and the European, African, Middle Eastern Service Medal.
Later works are smaller, and many were cast at the Tallix Foudnry in Beacon, New York. He worked there from 1970 until the end of the 1980s, personally supervising the casting of his works. Some of these works were new, and others were cast from planters he had created years earlier. He took this opportunity to have Triton Fountain recast in a smaller size and plumbed as working fountains in a small edition of twelve.
Also in the 1980s, Hancock created small bronzes of figures in action, often of young people playing sports. In these smaller works, he enjoyed posing figures contrapposto, and emphazied the angular faces of Gloucester's local Finnish population. He often executed these pieces while working on a large comissino as a way to relax and "let off steam".
During his long career, Walker Hancock recived numerous honors including the Herbert Adams Medal of Honor from the National Sculpture Society in 1954, the National Medal of Art, conferred by the President in 1989, and the Medal of Freedom in 1990. At the American Academy in Rome, where he had studied as a young man, there is a sculpture studio named in his honor.
In 1943, he married the former Saima Natti, a Gloucester woman of Finnish descent. In 1930, he built his own studio there, traveling regularly to Philadelphia. He later moved to Gloucester full time, and continued to work in his studio there until a year or so before his death. His last big project was a flight memorial for the United States Military Academy at West Point. His autobiography, A Sculptor's Fortunes, was published in 1997. Walker Kirtland Hancock died in 1998 at the age of 97.
Axelrod, Alan (ed.) A Timeless Perfection: American Figurative Sculpture in the Classical Spirit - Gifts from Dr. Michael L. Nieland to The Westmoreland Museum of American Art, Greensburg Pennsylvania: The Westmoreland Museum of American Art, 2017.