Sculpting Our Heroes


Salmagundi Club of New York
New York City
Through April 30, 2023

Heather Personett (b. 1988), "Bust of Augustus Saint-Gaudens," 2022, clay, 19 x 8 x 7 in.
Heather Personett (b. 1988), “Bust of Augustus Saint-Gaudens,” 2022, clay, 19 x 8 x 7 in.

A professional and social organization for representational artists and their patrons, the Salmagundi Club of New York is housed in a historic brownstone mansion facing Fifth Avenue in Greenwich Village. It remains one of Manhattan’s best-kept secrets, and within it lies an even better-kept secret: a stunning library with an unparalleled collection of visual reference materials.

Beginning in the years around 1896, the philanthropist J. Sanford Saltus (1853–1922) and artist William Henry Shelton (1840–1932) were among the club members who regularly traveled to Europe to buy books containing illustrations of uniforms and other costumes that the club’s many illustrator members could use for reference.

“That was the golden age of magazine illustration,” says Alexander Katlan, chairman of the club’s library committee. “The illustrators would refer to these books to ensure their creations were accurate.” Today, the Salmagundi library contains some 5,000 volumes of rare material catalogued using a unique method that predates the Dewey Decimal System.

Beyond its archival resources, the library contains many artworks to admire, including two allegorical door panels painted in 2021 by Noah Buchanan (b. 1976) as a commission after he placed first in the club’s competition. Now another commission has been undertaken through the club’s first bust competition, which sustains the tradition of talented sculptors honoring their artistic forerunners.

The “Sculpting Our Heroes” competition was conducted last year, and this winter the public is invited to admire the winning work — Heather Personett’s bust of the great sculptor Augustus Saint-Gaudens (1848–1907) — plus nine other works recognized by the jury. (Interestingly, six of the 10 top artists chose to depict Saint-Gaudens, who joined the club in 1877. Their other subjects were William Merritt Chase, Alphonse Mucha, and N.C. Wyeth.)

Placing second in the competition was Jana Buettner; third place went to Andreja Vuckovic, and fourth to Maudie Brady. The remaining finalists were Kate Brockman, Zoe Dufour, Erik Ebeling, Matt Gemmell, Quitin McCann, and Susan Wakeen. Personett’s clay maquette (illustrated above) is being cast in bronze this season; both versions will be on view in the exhibition.

On February 16, Fine Art Connoisseur editor-in-chief Peter Trippi moderated a panel discussion on the bust competition and its significance.


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