Catalog Essay | October 24, 2019 | Lot 81
Abastenia Eberle created this sculpture at her cottage in Woodstock, New York in 1910, using a local woman as a model. “I remember thinking about the idea [of sweeping] continually when walking about New York and later I modeled it in Woodstock. Every farmer’s wife I knew was arguing about how to sweep properly.” In time she came to understand that this statue “was the expression of a subjective reality—though I myself was not aware of it at the time. Later I realized why the idea of ‘sweeping something out’ had been so insistent.”
By 1910 Eberle was well along in a personal transition that in some ways mirrored the large forces moving in the art community and in the world beyond it. She had come to New York in 1899, alone, with few funds, and twenty years old. She had very little art background; she was in training to be a professional musician. Until she was in her teens the only sculptures, she had seen were cemetery monuments that “didn’t fill the bill.” Until she came to New York her only formal work had been two years at the Canton, Ohio, YWCA, where she had personally rounded up the requisite ten students to there could be a sculpture class. During the Spanish-American War, when her father was stationed as a physician to the military in Puerto Rico, she modeled portraits of the life she saw around her. She moved eventually moved to New York and enrolled at the Art Students League.
With Anna Vaughn Hyatt (later Huntington) she collaborated on at least three major pieces, Eberle doing the people and Huntington the animals. Gutzon Borglum, Huntington’s teacher, urged them to submit their Men and Bull for the 1904 Society of American Artists exhibit, where it was greeted with enthusiasm by the jury, including Augustus Saint-Gaudens. Within two years, echoing the divisions in the art world, their two careers went different ways. Huntington went to Paris to study. Eberle remained in New York.
The breakthrough came as she began to find interest for her small figures of the life of the streets in lower Manhattan. Roller Skating (1906) was acquired by the Metropolitan Museum of Art. In 1906 Eberle was elected to the National Sculpture Society, only one of seven women since its founding. In 1907 and again in 1908 she went to Naples, where she could cast her work more inexpensively. The Italian foundry, never having handled the work of a woman artist before, had to be convinced that the work was hers and that she knew what she was doing.
She became active in the suffrage movement, organizing a show at the Macbeth Gallery to raise funds, and leading a contingent of women sculptors in the women’s suffrage parade.
The role of the artist, Eberle told The Survey, is to be “the specialized eye of society, just as the artisan is the hand, and the thinker the brain…the artist must see for the people—reveal them to themselves.” According to the New York Evening Sun, “This is her way of helping combat the injustices and evils of our system. She does not preach; she makes us see.”
In 1909 Eberle built a small studio in the burgeoning artist colony in Woodstock, New York. There in 1910 she modeled Windy Doorstep, the woman sweeping with the wind, so all the accumulated debris is blown far away. It became one of her most successful pieces. At the National Academy of Design exhibition in 1910 it won the Helen Foster Barnett Prize for the best sculpture by an artist under thirty-five. It was purchased by four museums, the Carnegie Institute, the Newark Museum, Peabody Institute and the Worcester Art Museum. By April 1917, fifteen copies of the edition of twenty had been sold.
During the ten years following the success of Windy Doorstep, Eberle’s career flourished. She had two pieces in the groundbreak-ing Armory Show (1913). In 1920 she was elected to the National Academy of Design and year later the Macbeth Gallery gave her a one-artist show. By this time, the bad health that had begun to plague her in 1915 took hold and her heart was too weak to continue. At forty-three, she was forced to retire, working only when she had the strength and the means to hire help for the heavy work sculpture demands. She died in 1942.
Windy Doorstep is marked “S. Klaber & Co. / Founders NY” as is the example at the Memorial Art Gallery, University of Rochester. According to Joel Rosenkranz, of Connor Rosenkranz, New York, New York, this indicates an early casting of this piece.
Adapted from: Pamela W. Blanpied, “Abastenia St. Leger Eberle, Windy Doorstep (1910)” in Marjorie Searl, ed. Seeing America: Painting and Sculpture from the Collection of the Memorial Art Gallery of the University of Rochester. Rochester, New York: University of Rochester Pres, 2006.