Vinnie Ream and a Senate Debate

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Vinnie Ream, Fame and Notoriety

The women who became professional artists after 1850 were the subject of much public interest, both when classed together as a “flock” and when viewed as outliers to mainstream society. There were ongoing debates about women’s ability, the authenticity of their work, and for some, the propriety of their behavior. Social restrictions on women were such that an artist might cause a scandal simply by working in her studio without a chaperone.

Women—not just artists—were shaping their identities as public figures in unprecedented ways, and media coverage of the era allowed others to follow their every move. Youthful, attractive, and unattached, Vinnie Ream garnered a lot of attention. Early in her long career she used her savvy to turn this intense scrutiny to her advantage. She remained in the public eye even after her celebrated wedding, and three statues in the Capitol represent her 40-year career.

By the time Vinnie Ream’s last statue arrived in the 1910s, women sculptors were not as rare, nor were women who pursued careers after marriage. In fact, Belle Kinney and her husband Leopold Sholz collaborated on two works in the Capitol in that same time period.

Guest Speaker: Melissa Dabakis, Professor of Art History Emerita, Kenyon College.
She is the author of the book, “A Sisterhood of Sculptors: American Artists in Nineteenth-Century Rome.”

Learn more about the life and contributions of Vinnie Ream.

black and white photo of a girl with long curly hair and a white dress standing in front of a white marble bust of abraham lincolnVinnie Ream, 1847-1914
Vinnie Ream at work upon her Lincoln bust, which rests upon the stand she used in the White House while President Lincoln posed for her.
Between 1865 and 1870

Retrieved from the Library of Congress

white marble bust of abraham lincoln with a long face and beard staring downwardsAbraham Lincoln Statue
Sculpted by Vinnie Ream, the first female artist commissioned to create a work of art for the U.S. government.
Marble, 1871, Rotunda, U.S. Capitol

Ream’s commission of this statue was at the center of a Senate debate in 1866.

bronze statue of a man with a suit on raising his right armSamuel Jordan Kirkwood
Sculpted by Vinnie Ream
Given by Iowa in 1913
Bronze, Hall of Columns, U.S. Capitol

bronze statue of a woman with a long dress holding a book and looking straightforwardSequoyah
Sculpted by Vinnie Ream (completed by G. Julian Zolnay)
Given by Oklahoma in 1917
Bronze, National Statuary Hall, U.S. Capitol

black and white photo of a woman sitting in a chair with a dress and large black hat onBelle Kinney Scholz, 1890-1959
Belle Kinney Scholz along with her husband, Leopold, sculpted both of Tennessee’s statues for the National Statuary Hall Collection – Andrew Jackson, given in 1928, and John Sevier, given in 1931. Image courtesy of the Architect of the Capitol

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