The life and work of Jerome Connor an American sculptor born in Ireland.
From American Civil War statues to commemorating Robert Emmet, the Lusitania Memorial, and portrait heads, Irish sculptor Jerome Connor's work spanned the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, artistic traditions and concepts of heroism and humanity.
Jerome Connor (1874 – 1943) was born in Coumduff, Annascaul County Kerry and emigrated to Massachusetts with his family in 1888. The son of a stonemason, one of his many jobs before he became a full time sculptor was as a stonecutter.
From 1898 – 1903 he lived in the Roycroft in New York State, a community of craft workers and artists, which had been founded by Elbert Hubbard, a writer, artist, businessman and entrepreneur.
It was from here that he developed his style as a sculptor, working on monuments and memorials associated with the American Civil War, such as 'The Supreme Sacrifice' and ‘Nuns of the Battlefield’. The Bishop John Carroll statue at Georgetown University, Washington DC and the Robert Emmet statues (located in St Stephen’s Green, Washington DC and San Francisco) are also the work of his hands.
He returned to Ireland in 1925 as a renowned sculptor, ostensibly to commence work on the Lusitania Memorial in Cobh, on which his friends Elbert and Alice Hubbard had perished in May 1915, but his visit turned into a long term stay.
Observing the local fishermen, he became inspired to create a monument representing
Not the tragedy of those who drowned, but the courage of those who tried to save them.
The early years in Ireland were spent in a hive of creativity, as he worked on bronze busts of notable Irish figures such as George Russell (Æ) and Eamon de Valera, submitted designs for new Irish coins, and received commissions for commemorative statues such as the Pikeman of Tralee.
Throughout this time he also worked on portrait heads and heads of people he met in the street, or who caught his imagination, such as ‘The Bellman’, ‘Peace’ and ‘Statia’.
Work on the Lusitania Memorial dragged on and on, his relationship with the Lusitania Committee began to flounder, and artistic differences arose,
What he wanted to do, and what his committee expected from him had become two different things.
In the end, he was forced to declare himself bankrupt, and by the age of sixty was homeless and penniless on the streets of Dublin. Looked after by friends, he continued to work when he could on heads, which ironically became his most successful works,
They are his epitaph, his gift to his own people.
This episode of ‘Anthology’ was broadcast on 9 March 1970. The reporter is Brian Cleeve.