Cyrus Edwin Dallin (1861-1944) Biography

Dallin is best known for his iconic, monumental sculptures of Native American subjects.


The son of a silver miner, Cyrus Dallin grew up in Springville, Utah beneath the Wasatch Mountains. At the time, an adobe wall surrounded the tiny village as protection from the Utes and Paiutes in the area. Rather than raiding the settlement, however, the Indians often camped nearby to trade with it occupants. Dallin grew up with Native playmates, spending time in their camps and observing their daily lives and ceremonies. He developed a great respect for Native peoples that not only lasted throughout his life, but also inspired some of his most important sculptures.

As a teenager, Dallin worked in his father’s mine where, one day, the miners uncovered a vein of white clay. Young Cyrus used the material to model male and female heads that received considerable attention and praise from his neighbors. When he showed them at a local fair, two men were so impressed with his talent that they put up money to send him East for formal instruction in art. 

Dallin arrived in Boston in 1880 to study with the sculptor Truman Bartlett. He assisted the elder artist in his studio to help pay for instruction and later took a job in a nearby terra cotta factory. After about two years, Dallin had a bitter falling-out with his mentor, took a job with a headstone company in Quincy, Massachusetts and opened his own studio.

In 1883, Dallin entered a competition in Boston for a monumental sculpture of Paul Revere. He won the competition, but when the press discovered that the artist was a 22-year old novice from the far West, opinion turned against Dallin and the committee refused to grant him a contract for the sculpture. After offering at least two revisions, they finally granted the commission, but then derogatory public statements from Dallin’s former mentor once again stalled the process.

In 1887, Dallin left Massachusetts to study at the Ecole des Beaux Arts and at the Academie Julien in Paris under Henri Chapu. After completing several sculptures of the typical classical subjects expected at the Academie, Dallin returned to his interest in Native Americans when Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show arrived in Paris in 1889. Using a member of that troupe as a model, and inspired by his boyhood memories of a peace “pow-wow,” Dallin completed his first monumental equestrian statue, Signal of Peace. After winning an honorable mention at the Paris Salon, Dallin returned with the sculpture to the United States in 1890. He entered it in Chicago’s Columbian Exposition in 1893 where it was purchased for the City of Chicago and where it still resides in Lincoln Park.

Upon his return to Massachusetts, Dallin married his fiancé, Vittoria Murray. Short of money to re-establish a studio, the couple moved to Springville to reduce expenses. While in Utah in the early 1890s, the Mormon Church offered Dallin a commission to sculpt the Angel Moroni. He declined, at first, because it was not in line with his personal beliefs, but he reconsidered and the sculpture still rises atop the Temple in Salt Lake City where it has become an icon of the LDS church.

By 1892 the Dallins had returned to Boston where Cyrus re-engaged the thriving artistic culture of the city. Although Dallin’s monumental works had established his national reputation (he was elected to the National Sculpture Society in 1893) he felt the need for further study with more experienced artists. Cyrus and Vittoria left for Paris in 1897 where Cyrus studied this time under Jean Dampt.

In 1898 Dallin began work on the second of his equestrian monuments, Medicine Man which debuted at the Paris salon the next year and was awarded a gold medal at the Paris Exposition of 1900. The Dallins returned to Boston with the sculpture later that year, and exhibited it at the Pan-American Exposition in Buffalo in 1901 and the St. Louis Exposition in 1904. The sculpture eventually was purchased for Fairmount Park in Philadelphia where it still stands.

Dallin created his third Indian equestrian sculpture, The Protest, for the St. Louis Exposition where it won a gold medal. That piece, however, never was cast in permanent material. The fourth monumental of the group, Appeal to the Great Spirit, debuted at the National Sculpture Society exhibition in Baltimore in 1908 where it also won a gold medal. It now stands in front of the Museum of Fine Arts Boston. Appeal to the Great Spirit arguably was Dallin’s most popular sculpture, and was reproduced for the mass market in plaster and bronze.

In addition to his monumental Indian pieces, Dallin created many portrait sculptures of historical figures as well as commissions of living individuals. Examples of the former include Sir Isaac Newton for the Library of Congress; Massasoit, the Wampanoag leader who made peace with the Pilgrim colony which now overlooks Plymouth Rock; General Winfield Scott Hancock for the Gettysburg Memorial; John Hancock, now at the Springville Museum; and Oliver Wendell Holmes and Julia Ward Howe, both now at the Museum of Fine Arts Boston.

Over his long career, Dallin created about 260 sculptures. The one that gave him the most frustration and pleasure, perhaps, was the Paul Revere equestrian monumental. After submitting five revisions to the selection committee in Boston during the 1880s and 1890s, they finally granted Dallin the contract. Nevertheless, due to fundraising problems and other issues it would take four more decades to see this work realized in bronze. The completed work, his seventh iteration in 57 years, was installed in front of Boston’s Old North Church in 1941, less than three years before the sculptor’s death at age 82.

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