Eli Harvey: Quaker Sculptor from Ohio
Eli Harvey (1860-1957), third child of seven born to William Penn Harvey (1828-1917) and Nancy Moore Harvey (1829-1898), was raised in a white frame farmhouse that stood on the bluff above Todd’s Fork, in Adams Township, Clinton County, Ohio.
As a young child, Eli studied at the local schoolhouse next to Springfield Meeting and then at Sligo school. Following his interest in art, he educated himself through books and magazines, painted local scenes, and did portraits of relatives and notables in the Wilmington area. Harvey later enrolled in the Art School of McMicken University in Cincinnati. He lived in Cincinnati for seven years, studying, teaching, and painting portraits, until he was able to study abroad.
In the summer of 1889 he traveled to Paris, where he studied under the French masters. During the summers he traveled and painted the French countryside. In 1893, Harvey returned to America and married his fiancée Mary Baker. They returned to Paris that fall.
Eli Harvey found considerable success as a painter in France. Some of his works displayed at expositions in Paris. In the process of studying the anatomy of the animals for his painting “Orpheus Charming the Animals,” he realized his calling was in sculpture, particularly of animals. He studied under Fremiet and Gerome.
In 1901, he entered and won the competition to create the sculptural work for New York’s new Zoological Park Lion House. He and Mary moved to New York, where he completed that commission with great success. From 1902 through 1929, Eli produced sculpture for public buildings, private commissions, and his own creative projects. Mary became ill, and died in 1919.
Eli Harvey was invited by a Brown University alumnus to sculpt a life-size brown bear as the mascot of Brown University in Providence RI. In June of 1921, Eli was married to Grace Harvey, a noted photographer (and distant relative) who lived in California. When the Brown University Bear was unveiled at the 1923 Commencement, Eli and his wife Grace were honored guests. Grace died in New York in 1924.
He married Edith James, a teacher and violinist, in 1925. Edith and Eli eventually moved to Alhambra, California. 1929 at age 69, he designed and built a house and studio, near his artist friends Frank Tenney Johnson and Norman Rockwell. The California years of semi-retirement were spent mostly in lecturing and exhibitions.
Eli Harvey’s memoirs end with these words: “As a birthright Friend myself however, I know that Friends have always emphasized visions of the Life Eternal rather than the artist’s creations in pigment, bronze or stone portraying the beauties of God’s creations in the natural world, only a temporary abode of man. Nevertheless, I am convinced that these two points of view are not incompatible.”
Due to his generosity, and that of his widow Edith, the most significant collection of his works were given to the Clinton County Historical Society. On display at the Society’s Rombach Place Museum are more than fifty sketches, paintings and sculptures by Eli Harvey.