Appleton's Cyclopedia of American Biography, edited by James
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AKERS, Benjamin Paul (a-kers), sculptor, born in Saccarappa, Westbrook, Maine, 10 July 1825; died in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, 21 May 1861. No genius was ever more a special gift than his, since there could hardly be less congenial soil for the growth of an artist than a small Maine village sixty years ago. He had never seen an artist, nor even a statue or a bust when he began modeling. He had previously attempted painting, which did not satisfy him, and the first plaster east that he ever saw was, he said, "a revelation" to him. In 1849 he went to Boston and took lessons in plaster casting from Carew, and returning home to Hollis, where his family then lived, he obtained some clay from a pottery and began modeling, space for the work being given him in the office of the village physician, who believed in his genius. His first work was a head of Christ, which was remarkably original and impressive, and was afterward ordered in marble by the United States minister to the Hague. Akers next made the bust of a respected townsman, of which in after years he said" "It was as ugly as Fra Angelico's devil, and was a remarkably faithful likeness." The next summer he took a studio in Portland, and for over two years labored diligently and conscientiously at what he now felt to be his real life work. He made many portrait busts, among them being that of Governor Gilman, of New Hampshire, Rev. Dr. Nichols, of Portland, Professor Sheppard, John Neal, Professor Cleave-land, Samuel Appleton, of Boston, Henry W. Longfellow, and others of less note. He also produced several ideal works, among them a head of "Charlotte Corday" and a bas-relief of "Evening." In the autumn of 1852 he sailed for Europe, reaching Italy in December. He remained studying a year in Florence, making several busts, and a " Morning" as companion to his " Evening," and putting in marble several of his previous works. In the autumn of 1853 he returned to Portland, and that winter modeled the statue of Benjamin in Egypt that was exhibited at the World's Fair in New York, and was destroyed at the burning of the Portland custom-house the next year. Among his portrait busts at this time was a head of Judge Shepley. In October 1854, he went to Washington, where he modeled busts of many of the noted men of the time, among them that of Hon. Lynn Boyd, of Kentucky, speaker of the house, Judge McLean, of Cincinnati, Edward Everett, Sam Houston, and Gerrit Smith. In January 1855, he again visited Europe, residing at times in Rome, Venice, Naples, Switzerland, Paris, and England, crossing the Alps on foot, and in the following two or three years produced his best-known works. These include "Peace," "Una and the Lion," "Girl Pressing Grapes," "Isaiah," Schiller's "Diver," "Reindeer," "Saint Elizabeth of Hungary," "Diana and Endymion," " Paul and Francesca," "Milton," and the "Dead Pearl-Diver." The last two works are described in Hawthorne's "Marble Faun." During this time he also made many busts of Americans visiting Rome, and executed very many copies of antique busts and statues for the galleries of American and English patrons of art. The amount of labor which he crowded into a little more than two years was amazing; in fact, his constant toil on wet clay in a damp, sunless Roman studio, undermined a constitution naturally delicate, and he returned home in the summer of 1857 with his health seriously broken. He was unable to accomplish much in his art during the next two years, and in 1859 made another visit to Italy to recruit his failing strength, but returned the next year, without improvement, to Portland. Medical advice sent him to Philadelphia for the winter, but the change was not beneficial, and he died at thirty-six years of age, with his work, as he said, "just begun." He had much literary ability, and contributed papers on art and artists to the "Atlantic Monthly."
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