Little Visits with Great Americans
by Orison Swett Marden
Henry Merwin Shrady, Sculptor
There is a charming lesson in the way Henry Merwin Shrady, the sculptor, "found himself." A few years ago, this talented artist, whose splendid buffalo and moose ornamented the entrance of the Pan-American Exposition at Buffalo, was employed as an assistant manager in the match business of his brother-in-law, Edwin Gould. It was by attempts at self-improvement through painting in oil, during leisure hours, that he discovered his capacity for art, and, finally, for sculpture of a high order of merit.
"I always secretly wished," he said modestly, "to become a great painter, and, with that in view, dabbled in oils from childhood. My family wished me to study medicine, but my nature revolted at the cutting of flesh; so, after a course at Columbia University, I studied law. An attack of typhoid fever, caught at a Yale-Harvard boat race, after my graduation, incapacitated me for work for a year. Then I went into the match business, instead of practicing law.
"After business hours and on holidays, I taught myself painting. I have never taken a lesson in drawing, in painting, or in sculpture, in my life. I joined the Bronx Zoological Society, that I might the better study animals, and it was at these gardens that I made the sketches for my buffalo and moose."
Mr. Shrady taught himself the art of mixing oils, and then, in spare hours, called on William H. Beard, at his studio, for the delineator of "The Bulls and Bears of Wall Street" to criticise his sketches. Once Mr. Beard said, prophetically, "Some day you will forsake all for art."
A PET DOG HIS FIRST PAINTING.
The young artist had, at his home, a fox-terrier, of which he was very fond. He painted a picture of the dog, and his wife, thinking it an excellent piece of work, offered it clandestinely for exhibition at the National Academy of Design. It was accepted. Great was his astonishment when he recognized it there. It was sold for fifty dollars. His next serious attempt was caused by a little rivalry. His sister brought from abroad an expensive painting of some French kittens. He instantly took a dislike to the kittens, and said he would paint her some Angora ones. To make satisfactory sketches, he carried a sketch-book in his pocket, on his walks to and from his office, pausing on the pavements before the different fanciers' windows to sketch the kittens within. This picture was also accepted by the National Academy of Design. But he refused an offer to sell it, as he had promised it to his sister, Mrs. Gould, for a Christmas present.
"It was on account of the almost impossible feat of getting colorings at night," he said, "that I turned to modeling in clay. I wanted to do something to improve as well as amuse me. I modeled a battery going into action, but did not finish it till persuaded to do so by Alvin S. Southworth, a special correspondent of a New York paper in the Crimean War, and friend of my father, Dr. Shrady. It was to gratify him that I finished it. A photograph of it, reproduced in 'The Journalist,' attracted a gentleman in the employ of the firm of Theodore B. Starr. He called upon me, and encouraged me to have it made in Russian bronze. That house purchased it, and advised me to enter the field, as they saw prospects for American military pieces."
Mr, Shrady sketched the gun-carriage and harness for his battery in the Seventh Regiment armory, to which regiment he has belonged for seven years; and his own saddle horse was his model for the horses of the battery.
One day Carl Bitter, the sculptor, dropped in at Starr's, while Mr. Shrady was there. He noticed the small bronzes, —the buffalo and the moose. "I think we can use them at the Buffalo Exposition," he said. Mr. Bitter offered the sculptor the use of his studio, in Hoboken, and, in six weeks, by rising at half past five in the morning, and working ten hours a day, he enlarged his buffalo to eight feet in height, and his moose, a larger animal, to nine feet. Then glue molds were taken of both of them, with the greatest care.
"I had never enlarged, or worked in plaster of Paris before," said Mr. Shrady. "They gave me the tools and plaster, and told me to go to work. I didn't know how to proceed, at first, but eventually learned all right. I think I could do such work with more ease now," he added, "for that was practical experience I could not get in an art school."
Since then, Mr. Shrady has made a realistic cavalry piece, "Saving the Colors," —of two horsemen, one shot and falling, and the other snatching the colors; also, "The Empty Saddle," —of a cavalry horse, saddled and bridled, and quietly grazing at a distance from the scene of the death of his rider. This was exhibited at the Academy of American Artists. The Academy of Fine Arts, of Philadelphia, requested Mr. Shrady to exhibit at its exhibition in January, 1902.
The youthful sculptor has the gift of giving life, expression and feeling to his animals, which, some say, is unsurpassed.
A UNIQUE EXPERIMENT WITH A HORSE.
"I do not believe," said he, "in working from an anatomical figure, or in covering a horse with skin and hair after you have laid in his muscles. You are apt to make prominent muscles which are not really prominent. Once I soaked a horse with water, and took photographs of him, to make a record of the muscles and tendons that really show. They are practically few, except when in active use. In an art school you learn little about a horse. The way which I approve is to place a horse before you, study him and know him, and work till you have reproduced him. No master, standing over your shoulder, can teach you more than you can observe, if you have the soul. Corot took his easel into the woods, and studied close to nature, till he painted truthfully a landscape. Angelo's best work was that done to suit his personal view.
"Talent may be born, but it depends upon your own efforts whether it comes to much. I believe that if your hobby, desire, or talent, whichever you wish to call it, is to paint or model, you can teach yourself better than you can be taught, providing you really love your work, as I do."
Thus did Mr. Shrady desert a mechanical life he disliked, and start on a promising career. He is still young, slight, and with delicate features. His heart is tender toward animals, and he refuses to hunt. His chief delight is in riding the horse which has figured so prominently in his work. His success proves two things : the value of leisure moments, and the wisdom of turning a hobby into a career.