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Historical Essay

Mears, Helen Farnsworth (1872-1916)

Mears, Helen Farnsworth 1872 - 1916 | Wisconsin Historical Society
EnlargeHelen Farnsworth Mears sitting on a ladder and resting her head against her hand.

Helen Farnsworth Mears,

Helen Farnsworth Mears sitting on a ladder and resting her head against her hand. View the original source document: WHI 2902

Enlarge"Genius of Wisconsin" statue, originally sculpted by Helen Mears for the Columbian Exposition of 1893.

Genius of Wisconsin

"Genius of Wisconsin" statue, originally sculpted by Helen Mears for the Columbian Exposition of 1893. It was later recreated in marble by the Piccirilli Brothers and funded by women of Wisconsin. It now stands at the first floor southeast entrance of the Wisconsin State Capitol. View the original source document: WHI 45085

b. Oshkosh, Wisconsin.  December 21, 1872
d. New York, New York. February 17, 1916

Sculptress Helen Farnsworth Mears was born in Oshkosh on December 21, 1872. She was the daughter of Mary Elizabeth Mears. Helen showed artistic ability at an early age, and she was encouraged by her parents to pursue sculpting. At the age of nine, she modeled a bust of Apollo which was exhibited at the county fair, and at 16 her kneeling figure, "Repentance," received favorable notice from August Saint-Gaudens.

While studying under Lorado Taft at the Chicago Art Institute, Helen was commissioned to do a figure to represent Wisconsin at the World's Columbian Exposition (1893). The result was a nine-foot statue, "Genius of Wisconsin," which now stands in the state capitol. She then went to New York where she studied under August Saint-Gaudens, and later worked and studied in Europe.

In 1904 she was honored at the St. Louis Exposition for her work "The Fountain of Life." Her best-known work, a statue of Frances E. Willard, was executed under commission from the state of Illinois in 1898, and was unveiled in Statuary Hall of the U.S. Capitol in 1905. Among her other works are bronze busts of George Rogers Clark and William T. G. Morton, and bas-reliefs of August Saint-Gaudens, Edward McDowell, and her mother, Mary Elizabeth Mears. She was also the sculptress of the Adin Randall Fountain in Eau Claire, which was completed in 1914.

Helen was living in New York City when her promising career was cut short by an untimely death.

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Dict. Amer. Biog.; Milwaukee Sentinel, Feb. 18, 1916; Mears Family Papers.