Historical Figures® News: April 2009

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Monday, April 27, 2009

Celebrating an early African-American entrepreneur

"For years I have wanted to do something to honor the history of black Americans," Mr. Stuart observes, "My intensions were impeded during my early years by booking agents who strongly suggested I stick to history with which my invariably all-white audiences would identify. Nowadays, Americans generally have a more sophisticated view."

"The Museum of Ventura County docent Patricia Trude has spoken with me on several occasions regarding my doing something in the area of black history. Mr.s Trude suggested that I look into the story of C. J. Walker (1867-1919)."
Madame C.J. Walker, the first self-made U.S. w...Image via Wikipedia
Indeed, Mme. Walker's history proved fascinating. Although little known today, C. J. Walker is an outstanding example of the American mythology - if you work hard and never give up, you will achieve success.

Mme. Walker went from house servant to becoming the first black woman millionaire and a major figure in the black American affairs. All of her successes came before the civil rights movement or the enfranchisement of women. Her story illustrates the remarkable quality of this segment of our population.

From Wikipedia:

She was born Sarah Breedlove in Delta, Louisiana, the first member of her family to be born free. Her parents had been slaves. At age 14, she married a man named Moses McWilliams and was widowed at age 20. She then moved to St. Louis, Missouri to join her brothers. Sarah worked as a laundress for as little as a dollar and a half a day, but she was able to save enough to educate her daughter. While living in St. Louis, she joined St. Paul's African Methodist Episcopal Church, which helped develop her speaking, interpersonal and organizational skills. She was married in 1894 to John Davis and divorced about nine years later.

When she began to lose her hair, she had the idea for a line of hair care products. Like that of most other Americans in the early 1900s, Walker's home lacked indoor plumbing, electricity and central heating. Like many women of that era, she washed her hair only once a month. As a result, she suffered from severe dandruff and scalp disease that nearly caused her to go bald.

In 1905, Davis moved to Denver, Colorado, where she worked as a sales agent for Annie Malone, another black woman entrepreneur who manufactured hair care products. Sarah also consulted with a Denver pharmacist, who analyzed Malone's formula and helped Walker formulate her own products. In addition, she often told reporters that the ingredients for her "Wonderful Hair Grower" had come to her in a dream.

In 1906 she married Charles Joseph Walker, a St. Louis newspaperman, and changed her name to "Madam C.J. Walker". She founded the Madam C.J. Walker Manufacturing Company to sell hair care products and cosmetics. Madam Walker divorced Walker in 1910 and moved her growing manufacturing operations from St. Louis to a new industrial complex in Indianapolis. By 1917 she had the largest business in the United States owned by a black person.

I am a woman who came from the cotton fields of the South. From there I was promoted to the washtub. From there I was promoted to the cook kitchen. And from there I promoted myself into the business of manufacturing hair goods and preparations...I have built my own factory on my own ground.[2]
There is no royal, flower-strewn path to success. And if there is, I have not found it for if I have accomplished anything in life, it is because I have been willing to work hard.[2]

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Tuesday, April 14, 2009

A Mme. Pompadour figure returns to France

While attending the University of California at Santa Barbara in 1950, George Stuart was befriended by Patricia Mayfield Barton who soon became the first person to be seriously attracted to Stuart's budding art form, the Historical Figure®. Over the next few years, Barton actively promoted Stuart's work, placing exhibits in museums and even early TV shows. In response, Stuart created a stunning figure of Madame Pompadour as a gift in 1960 (seen here).

Barton and her American husband later emigrated to Gourdon, France taking the famous French courtesan with them. Barton, an artist in her own right, was honored there with more than ten solo shows as well as two UNICEF cards. Barton died in 2005, but bequeathed the Pompadour figure to a friend who cherishes the figure now in her care.

Stuart collaborates with LU Zhengliang Arts Studio for Chinese figure embroidery

In 1850, Hung Hsiu Ch'uan led the ten-year Taiping Rebellion. He embraced Christianity and believed he was God's second son. He preached communal land ownership as well as equality between men and women. His ill-fated revolt, however, cost 20 million Chinese peasants their lives.

After a ten year hiatus from creating figures from Chinese history, artist George Stuart once again began to search for finely embroidered silk to dress his latest figure from China's distant past. Searching the internet, he located LU Zhengliang Arts Studio in the Suzhou region of China. The figure of Hung Hsiu Ch'uan was to be the first of many collaborations with the Chinese fabric designer.

Stuart sketched the designs he envisioned for his new figure and Lu, studio owner and master artist, authenticated the sketches at a major national historical museum in Nanking.

"Every stitch in ancient robes had religious and cultural meaning and purpose," Stuart points out, "The challenge to Mr. Lu and his artists was maintain clarity at one-fourth life size."

Lu and his team used special needles and thread to reproduce the designs on the imperial gold silk Stuart had selected for Hung's robe and jacket.

An historical overview of Chinese embroidery can be seen at Lu's website:


Artist shares techniques for restoration of early figures

Unlike sculptures in stone or metal, Historical Figures® are delicate and require periodic care. In addition to maintaining the figures in the artist's gallery and those exhibited at the Ventura County Museum, Stuart restored 32 figures once owned by Monsanto Chemical. The figures, now known as the Monsanto-Hernandez Collection, required repair and repainting after many years in storage.

Many jewelry pieces had to be replated or replaced and frayed or faded clothing was replaced with new hand-made fashions.

Stuart was assisted in this work by Kathy Henri, the collections manager at the Ventura County Museum. In the photo above, Henri and Stuart touch up a figure of Prince Potemkin, part of the Russian collection, for an exhibit at the Ventura County Museum.

Master Portraitist Continues Digital Imaging Archive Project

Flattening George Stuart's 3D figures into digital images is a challenge that Peter D'Aprix has met for nearly all of the Historical Figures® collection.

"Like the individuals they represent, each figure has a unique personality. The job is to capture what Mr. Stuart intended the audience to see - the stance, the expression, the dress," says D'Aprix.

In March 2009, D'Aprix completed digital portraits of the Russian group, the latest group to be added to the gallery website.

For more information about Peter D'Aprix and his work, please visit his website:


New Jewelry for Three Queens and a First Lady

In a project jointly funded by the Historical Figures Guild (now Foundation) and the Smith Gallery Endowment, figures of three queens and a first lady received stunning new jewelry. Empress Alexandra Fedorovna, wife of Tsar Nicholas II of Russia, received a new tiara. Mary Todd Lincoln, wife of President Abraham Lincoln, received a new necklace and broach set. Empress Catherine II of Russia received a new crown and Queen Victoria of England received a new necklace.

Figure sculptor George Stuart worked with local and international jewelers to produce the delicate items.

George Stuart's Earliest Miniatures Part of Smithsonian Collection

The U.S. Patent Office once required inventors to submit working models with each patent application. Several models, including this 1838 gas engine, were transferred to the Smithsonian Institution. While on staff at the Smithsonian in the 1950s, George Stuart created seven maquettes representing portraits of the inventors with their inventions to indicate scale of their machinery models. A few years later he launched a career of modeling Historical Figures®.