James Kelly, sculptor of immortals

Born in 1855, James Kelly was an American sculptor and illustrator most famous for his works of the American Civil War.  His most famous works include the statue of John Buford at Gettysburg, the statue of James J. Wilson at West Point, and the George Washington at Valley Forge memorial at Federal Hall in New York City.

All but forgotten until recently, Kelly’s work and his interviews with Civil War commanders was highlighted last year with the release of my good friend Bill Styple’s book Generals in Bronze: Interviewing the Commanders of the Civil War.  I reviewed this book for an issue of Civil War Times Illustrated magazine.  A narrative of Kelly’s notes while interviewing commanders who sat for portraits (including men such as Winfield S. Hancock, Joshua L. Chamberlain, Alfred Pleasonton, Philip H. Sheridan and many others), the book is chock full of interesting observations about the personalities and the war.  Both the student and scholar will find much of interest in the book.

BookTV on CSpan2 will be airing a previously-shown program featuring Styple and his book (along with items from the Kelly collection) on Saturday, January 13 at 5:00 pm EST and again on Sunday, January 14 at 11:00 pm EST.  A new feature of these shows, however, will be the addition of footage of the dedication of the James Kelly memorial at his grave in New York City.  It has been sheer irony that Kelly, who spent most of his life memorializing famous figures in bronze and pen, never had a marker at his gravesite since his death in 1933.  Bill spearheaded a movement to design, sculpt, and pay for a new memorial headstone for Kelly’s grave, which was placed and dedicated a couple months ago.  I, along with fellow blogger Eric Wittenberg and others, were contributors to the project.

Congratulations to Bill Styple for his successful effort to have Kelly’s final resting place marked for all time.  If you are able, please watch the airings on CSpan2 next weekend.  The link to the book above will take you to Styple’s website for more information.

Published in: on January 4, 2007 at 2:56 pm  Comments (4)  

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4 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. J.D.,

    Thanks for the heads up about the program airing this weekend. Hopefully, when I get some time here, I will venture to the cemetery and pay my respects to Kelly in person soon.

    Steve

  2. I’d like to see it myself as well. Several of us (including you Steve) have seen pictures of the very nice memorial that Bill had erected at Kelly’s gravesite, and it would be wonderful to see it in person. Kelly hasn’t received this much attention since his death, and Bill is to be congratulated for all he’s done.

    J.D.

  3. Again, my warmest thanks to all who helped mark the grave of American Artist James Edward Kelly (1855-1933).
    It was only after I mentioned (during the BookTV interview) that Kelly lay in an unmarked grave in Old St. Raymond’s Cemetery in the Bronx, that I received dozens of emails, phone calls, letters, all from people wanting to do something for JEK.
    At first, the cemetery refused to allow us to place a monument there (not being related to Kelly), but after hearing from so many admirers, they finally granted permission.
    Over $8,000 was raised (for plot & care fees, monument, etc.,), and last October, we dedicated a double-size black granite monument, with an engraving of Kelly upon it, along with the words: “A Sculptor of American History” –I think he would of liked that.
    I feel confident that Kelly’s artistic fame is safe for another century–the 19th, the 20th, and now the 21st.
    In my opinion, Kelly was one of the greatest Civil War historians who ever put pen to paper, or paint to canvas, or cast a bronze. We owe him a debt of gratitude for keeping such wonderful notes. Although, there are a few “modern historians”(?) who will continue to dismiss Kelly, but truth-be-told–none of us will ever have the genuine INSIGHT into the lives of the commanding generals of the Civil War, as James Edward Kelly did.

  4. So true Bill, and thank you for giving us details of all you did to get the monument done and placed.

    I agree with you – a small percentage dismiss some of what Kelly wrote, but perhaps because a bit of it challenges their long-held beliefs. If Kelly’s notes had been released back in the 1880’s, 90’s, etc, they’d probably be used as solid sources now.

    J.D.


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