Jerome Connor Irish American Sculptor 1874-1943
Jerome Connor was born on the 23rd February 1874 in Coumduff, Annascaul, Co. Kerry, Ireland. He was the sixth and youngest child of Patrick Connor and Margaret (Currane) Connor. Connor was born into a small mountainside farm. His father, Patrick was experienced as a stone mason.
Jerome Connor’s Emigration to the USA
At the age of 14, Jerome’s father sold the family farm and the family moved to Holyoke Massachusetts, a typical destination for emigrants from this part of Ireland. In fact, Jerome’s eldest brother Timothy was already settled there. Jerome lived and worked in the USA until 1925 when he returned to Ireland.
Evolution of a Sculptor
His father died two years after the family’s arrival in the USA. Jerome left Massachusetts for New York where he found work as a sign painter, a stonecutter, bronze founder and machinist. He attributes his evolution into a sculptor to:
” My father was a master of four trades, and it was the inheriting of those tendencies, along with a little extra will all my own, that enables me to do this work. I am self taught…when I was a boy I used to steal my father’s chisels and carve figures on the rocks in Kerry.”
For two years until 1899, Connor assisted in the manufacture of bronzes such as The Civil War Memorial in South Hadley, Massachusetts and the Fountain of Neptune bronzes at the Library of Congress in Washington DC.
The Roycroft Institution
In 1899 he moved to a newly founded residential centre for craftspeople and artists called the Roycroft Institution. The institute was founded to promote the ideals of the Arts and Crafts movement and William Morris. Initially he assisted with blacksmithing work, but gradually began to make reliefs and busts in terracotta. Connor remained here for four years. In Royston he met his wife Anne Donohue.
From this period to his death he is known to have produced almost two hundred recorded designs, ranging from small portrait heads to relief panels to large civic commissions realized in bronze.
His major public memorials are to be found today in Washingon DC, Syracuse and East Aurora, New York , San Francisco and Carrollton Missouri, and in his native Ireland at Cobh, Co Cork and in Dublin City.
Jerome Connor – The Later Years.
Connor moved to Dublin in 1925 and opened a studio based on two commissions, one for the Lusitania Memorial and the other the Elbert Hubbard Memorial. Unfortunately in post-civil war Ireland there were few educated patrons and little financial support. Of his Irish projects, only the American financed Robert Emmet was realised in his lifetime.
Within a decade of his return to Ireland, the collapse of his principle Irish commission and funding difficulties with his great Lusitania Memorial, left him in reduced circumstances. At this point his importance as a sculptor was recognized only by a handful of collectors.
On the 20th August 1943 Connor was found ill in his apartment and brought to the Adelaide Hospital, where he died the following day of heart failure.
Why Jerome Connor’s Work merits our Attention
Jerome Connor was an exception in the world of Irish sculptor: a bronze sculptor used to the creation of civic memorials in the USA, while his fellow sculptors in Ireland belonged to a tradition of stone carving and church sponsored work.
Connor throughout his career practised a type of sculpture centred on a fidelity to the human form. He used the human figure to give expression to emotions and to articulate values and ideals. For his generation this was radical, a departure from academic formality. It was felt he was heavily influenced by the work of Irish American sculptor Augustus St Gaudens ( 1848 – 1907)
Connor’s Unique and Innovative Sculpture Style
Connors practice was to select his models from the people around him and he was a close observer of ethic and personal traits. At the start of his career this led to his sculptors being seen as authentically American. Forty years later, the Irish critic Arthur Power struck the same note, this time saying that Connors work represented the Real Ireland. The use of local models created an authentically local imagery in the eyes of the public used to idealized forms.
Connor had a distinctive Irish American focus with its stress on bronze memorials and secularised if emotional images. This served to distance Connor from his peers in Ireland. The nature of his American commissions allowed him to practice the current realist style without inhibition. This style he developed further in his final years, whilst working on the Lustitania Memorial.