This Day in History — March 2

On March 2, 1877, Joel Tanner Hart, talented sculptor who molded some of the Bluegrass region’s most important people into stone and clay, passed away. He was born on February 10, 1810 in Clark County and only received three months of schooling due to limited means. His trade education began when he moved to Bourbon County to build chimneys and stone walls and at the age of twenty-one he worked at a marble-yard in Lexington carving headstones and monuments. A chance meeting with a young sculptor from the north in Cincinnati, Ohio, Shobal Vail Clevenger, led him to sculpt a bust of Cassius Clay.

This bust would start what would become a prolific sculpting and art career. His sculptures would be housed all over the United States and he would eventually move to Florence, Italy, a hub for artists and sculptors. In 1838, Hart visted the Hermitage to scupt President Andrew Jackson, a political rival of Henry Clay. However, he would go on to sculpt Henry Clay several times. First, a sculpture was commissioned by the Ladies’ Clay Association in Richmond, Virginia, to produce a full-length sculpture of the great statesman.

After sculpting John J. Crittenden, Robert Wickliffe, and the Reverend Alexander Campbell, Hart went to Italy in September 1849 to transfer his plaster molds of the statue into marble. He fell in love with Italy, but would return to the United States and visit Great Britain and France.

The city of New Orleans commissioned the statue of Henry Clay to be replicated in bronze for display in the city square. The marble statue was placed in the Virginia state capitol. Hart was also asked by Louisville to replicate the statue for the Jefferson County courthouse.

Later in his career, he was commissioned to sculpt a piece for the Fayette County Courthouse. The piece was known as Woman Triumphant. Unfortunately, he died before he could finish the sculpture, but it was completed by another artist and housed was put on display in the courrhouse until it was destroyed by fire in 1897. Only remnants of the sculpture were recovered and are now housed in the University of Kentucky archives.

A reconstructed photograph of Woman Triumphant along with information about Hart and the courthouses of Fayette County are on display at the Lexington History Museum.

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