ON LOCATION: While in Florence, I looked for the villa once inhabited by the American sculptor Hiram Powers and his family. It was a mythical place I first heard of as I was working on my film on Daniel Chester French. While scouting for locations in Florence, I crashed with my son William in the nearby villa Agape, a mansion of identical proportions. We walked, camera in hand.
Notes for a Documentary Film: American sculptors like Hiram Powers have looked to Italy for inspiration and material resources since the Republic's early years. Powers moved to Florence in 1837, where he had access to marble supplies. Some of the best-statuary marble was available in the not-so-distant mountains of Carrara. And expert stone-cutting and bronze-casting artisans were always helpful and ready to work for hire with the Americans. Hiram Powers remained with his family in Florence until he died in 1873. For almost four decades, he welcomed American sculptors who benefited from his experience. His influence contributed to further the interest in neo-classism, ultimately reshaping America's cities' public landscape.
Daniel Chester French, Frederick Mac Monnies, Paul Barlett, and others profited from Powers' advice to achieve their goals of executing extraordinary work in the tradition of the Italian Renaicense. Translating a clay or plaster model created in the United States into a marble sculpture was a slow, complex, and often expensive process. It implied traveling to supervise the acquisition of the marble block and the actual carving of the stone using an ancient technique known as pointing which allowed for identical copies of the original model. The finished work will later travel back across the Atlantic. But what if the American sculptors could acquire the raw material, the marble of choice here in the United States, and have the Italian artisans execute their models in Boston, Chicago, or New York? How much could be saved, thus rendering more affordable an otherwise costly process? The arrival to New York of Italian artisans and sculptors in the late 1880s will forever change the equation. With the introduction of The Italian Factor, American sculptors could work faster and in multiple commissions. Among the newcomers were The Piccirilli, a family of accomplished sculptors from Massa, Carrara. The Piccirilli will eventually set up a studio in New York. The space they created was a fair representation of the Italian studios dating back to the early days of the Renaicensse. By then, Hiram Power had already been dead for almost two decades, and the American sculptors had all they needed to accomplish the American Renaissance here, at home.