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Warren County Local History by Dallas Bogan

Melva Beatrice Wilson

Contributor:
Dallas Bogan on 28 July 2004
Source:
Dallas Bogan, Warren County, Ohio and Beyond (Bowie Maryland: Heritage Press, 1979) page 235
Return to Index to see a list of other articles by Dallas Bogan

Women in recent decades have received their share of recognition in the many professional fields, and rightly so. One career in which one would not expect a woman to excel in is the art of sculpture. A Warren County woman achieved honors as one of the greatest sculptors in the world: her name is Melva Beatrice Wilson. Miss Wilson came from a long line of distinguished ancestors, one of who, James Wilson, was a signer of the Declaration of Independence.
She was born in Morrow, Ohio, the daughter of John Lafayette and Mary Brooks Wilson. She was said to have "not only been born with the proverbial silver spoon, but that the spoon was diamond studded."
At an early age, instead of making mud pies with her playmates, she began to model in clay. Her favorite spot was a quiet hillside overlooking Morrow, where as a child she used to dream of her future life's work.
Miss Wilson, at the age of 15, accepted a scholarship for the art of sculpturing at Adrian College in Michigan. She graduated from Morrow High School at the age of 17, applied for, and for three successive years, won the $100 prize for superior sculpture at the Cincinnati Art Academy. In addition to the prize money she received free tuition for these years.
Her first instructions at the Academy were received from the famed Rebisso. While at the Institute she sold her models and received orders for her works.
She next traveled abroad and then to New York. While in the countries of Europe she made a thorough research of the raw materials of the marble quarries. Into this segment her creativity was to be developed.
She decided that New York was the best location for the quality advancements she needed. To supplement her income while pursuing a career as a sculptress, she reverted to writing poetry. Melva Wilson's artistry in the field of sculpturing was soon known throughout the world. Possibly one of her best-known creations is the outstanding statue of Christ, which tops the mortuary chapel at Calvary Cemetery on Long Island. Cardinal Farley as a suitable burial place erected it for his clergy. This figure of Christ typifies the Christ of the second resurrection, the only one that any artist had ever created. A period of five years was needed for this magnificent undertaking. On many of her works this lady of creativity actually supervised the construction of the scaffolding. She would mount the structure and, with chisel and hammer in hand, fashion the marble and stone in her own artistic manner.
One writer says that "Miss Wilson has made a profession of architectural sculptured figures, patriotic and ecclesiastic, for Country and for God, and many of her works adorn public buildings in this country."
She worked for years on sculptures for the new Saint Louis Catholic Cathedral. This display consisted of large porcelain panels for the walls of the cathedral, they being the largest such panels in the world. They had to be turned in large sections, each weighing 400 pounds. "Everything must be done for the first time, even in art," said the fine sculptress. Her two largest panels were in Byzantine sculpture displaying seven archangels. Most meaningful were two very large angels, with five being grouped in the background, and two cherubs as attendants. The panels measured 13 feet 6 inches in height by 4 feet 10 inches in width. The primary feature of these panels consisted of two statues, one of St. Michael and the other, St. Raphael. Each figure measured 10 feet high and was placed on opposite sides of the altar.
Miss Wilson's work was highly commended by art connoisseurs and Fathers of the Church as refinement in the highest fashion. Included in her work at the Cathedral was a series of 400 figures, which measured 200 feet long and 8 feet deep, entitled, "The Way of the Cross."
In 1913, she traded in her sculptor's tools for a whole new way of life, that of a nun. Her entire life had been one of personal accomplishment. Asked as to her reasoning, she replied:
"I have thought it out, and I know where my best happiness will be found. I am through with art and the world. I have accomplished what I most desired. I believe that I am called to the church."
She became a Sister of Charity in the convent Mount Saint Vincent, on the Hudson in New York, one of the most meticulous orders of the Catholic Church. Her last works were entitled, "Stations of the Cross." She completed over thirty figures, all in Parian marble for the Saint Louis Church. She had turned down offers for a long period of time knowing of her new venture into the church.
She vowed to serve the poor and devote her every waking hour to works of charity. She never again took up the sculptor's chisel, the mission that made her world famous.
Melva Beatrice Wilson died in 1921. She was brought back to her birthplace and buried in the family plot in the Morrow cemetery. Her burial place is marked with a large angelic form at the top of a monument shaft that lies in the northeast section of the cemetery. It is an outstanding exhibit to the memorial of one of the worlds finest in the field of sculpturing.


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This page created 28 July 2004 and last updated 28 September, 2008
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