William McVey

William McVey (1905-1995)

McVey is widely regarded as one of the leading American figurative sculptors of his generation. He left a legacy of distinguished portraits in stone and bronze representing many leading public personalities including John D. Rockefeller, Jesse Owens, and John Heisman, among others. His nine foot statue of Winston Churchill stands outside the British Embassy in Washington, D.C . After graduating from Shaw High School and what is now the Cleveland Institute of Art, he studied in Paris for three years where he mastered the creation of naturalistic sculpture. In 1932 he returned to Cleveland and taught at the CIA for two years then for the next nineteen years at the University of Texas and at the Cranbrook Academy of Art . In 1953, he returned to Cleveland, to head the sculpture department at the CIA and where he remained for the rest of his fruitful and much honored career. McVey’s four sculptures in the Putnam collection represent the range of his work with human subjects. The Good Samaritan (1952), beautifully carved from Tennessee marble, was created during his Cranbrook years. For most of his life McVey kept it in his studio, and unlike much of his later work, it is almost Mayan in appearance and demonstrates his skill when working in a modernist idiom. Both its theme and elegance make it appropriate for its place at the entrance to the Inamori Center for Ethics in Crawford Hall. The bronze portrait busts of Albert Michelson (1852-1931) and Edward Morley (1838-1923), both of whom taught at what is now CWRU, were commissioned as part of the year-long celebrations held in 1987 to commemorate the centennial of the experiment they conducted on the campus in 1887. In 1907, Michelson won the Nobel Prize in Physics for his measurements of the speed of light, the first American to win this prize in any of the sciences. The two bronze posthumous busts characterize McVey’s formal style. His portrait of Hart Crane (1985), based on a photograph, is life-like and informal. It was commissioned for the Putnam Collection to honor the great modernist poet , a native of Cleveland who in 1921 was briefly a student at CWRU. The moving poetry on the accompanying plaques convey Crane’s verbal magic and his mastery of poetic imagery. Peter Putnam donated a collection of research materials related to Crane’s life and work, now housed in the special collections in the Kelvin Smith Library. McVey was elected a member of the American Academy of Design and in 1964 was recipient of the Cleveland Arts Prize. At the time of his death he had left a legacy of forty-eight works of public sculpture in North East Ohio, many of them in University Circle institutions.

Works in the collection:

6 The Good Samaritan, 1952
Tennessee marble
Crawford Hall, Inamori Center, [1982.1]

14 Hart Crane, 1985
Bronze with granite base
Kelvin Smith Library, [1985 .1]

16 Albert Michelson, 1987
Bronze
Hovorka Atrium [1981.1]

17 Edward Morley, 1987
Bronze
Hovorka Atrium [1988.2]

The Putnam Sculpture Collection
Case Western Reserve University
11201 Euclid Avenue
Cleveland, Ohio 44106-7110

evelyn.kiefer@case.edu