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John Brown's Body

September 14 – December 4, 2016
Slater Concourse Gallery

Tufts University has in its permanent collection a marble bust of the late abolitionist John Brown (1800-1859). While the bust stands as a symbol of Brown's ardent fight against slavery and his pivotal role in the events leading to the beginnings of the Civil War, it likewise recognizes the University's connection to the Stearns Estate, from which the bust was originally commissioned and on which the Cousens Gym, Steve Tisch Sports and Fitness Center, and Alumni Fields now rest. Preparing the bust for exhibition necessitates its repair and cleaning. Its restoration and exhibition emphasizes the dramatic story of its original creation and lays claim to a history of abolitionism in the Greater Boston area, which will be elucidated through a supporting exhibition in the Slater Concourse Gallery this fall.

The commission for Brown's bust arrived shortly after the abolitionist's arrest at Harpers Ferry, West Virginia in October 1859. With the support of Medford residents George and Mary Stearns, Brown organized a resistance movement in which he attempted to seize the federal armory and arsenal. His efforts at insurrection failed, however, and he was tried and scheduled for hanging on December 2, 1859. Upon hearing of Brown's impending execution, Mary Stearns commissioned Winchester-based sculptor Edward A. Brackett to form a bust for Brown's memorialization. In order to complete this task and maintain secrecy, Brackett traveled to the prison in Charlestown, West Virginia where Brown was being held, befriended a prison guard, and attained access to Brown's jail cell where measurements and sketches were made. The Stearns officially revealed the marble bust of Brown, with his long beard and assertive gaze, during a New Year's celebration in 1863. Those in attendance included philosopher Ralph Waldo Emerson, poet and civil rights activist Julia Ward Howe (who wrote The Battle Hymn of the Republic), and Concord Transcendentalists, and authors Bronson and Louis May Alcott. In part a celebration of the Emancipation Proclamation, the gathering further acted as a memorialization of John Brown, whose actions and ideals had helped establish the abolitionist cause.

In anticipation of its inclusion in the fall 2016 exhibition, Edward Brackett's marble bust of John Brown is in a process of restoration. The entirety of the nose and a portion of the right eyebrow, lost through unknown circumstances, have been recreated through a 3D digital scanning process. The recessed surfaces of the nose and eyebrow have been compared with an intact plaster copy loaned from the Boston Athenaeum to create a three-dimensional printed mold. From this positive mold, a new marble nose will be cast and adhered.

John Brown's Body will be on view in the Slater Concourse Gallery concurrent with Mortal Things: Portraits Look Back and Forth from September 14 to December 4, 2016.



Edward Brackett
John Brown, 1860
Marble