There is an unexpectedly heroic monument in Hickory Grove Cemetery in Waverly, Pennsylvania.
The conceit, as you can easily see, is that a man is chiseling himself out of raw stone. Ignore the wasps’ nest on the hammer-hand but do note the well-chiseled abs. Ignore the troubling irrationality of how the sculptor started carving himself out! This type was created by sculptor Bobbie Carlyle, who explains the statue thus: “Self Made Man is a man carving himself out of stone, carving his character, carving his future.”
Granite is an inexpressive medium, and to see Carlyle’s work at its best we should look at the bronze by her on the UNC Charlotte campus. It is not the oldest replica, but it is available for public viewing and well founded (figure 2).
The heroism of the form goes hand-in-hand with its romantic leanings. The face was modeled from Carlyle’s son, but the hair on the UNCC statue (and all of the best replicas of Carlyle’s type) is straight out of Hector Berlioz (figure 3).
The torso of Carlyle’s original turns elegantly (figure 2), whereas the McDonald version is stiffly in one plane parallel to the long axis of the monument with the turning reduced mostly to the head (figure 4). The McDonald statue manifestly has a portrait of the man superimposed upon Carlyle’s torso, and that portrait has been taken from a photograph: the features are too relaxed for what the statue represents. I figure the cutter feared botching an attempt to render a more expressive countenance (figure 5).
The rear of the McDonald figure modestly covers the buttocks and again shows how the figure remains within the plane of the granite making up the monument (figure 6).
There are many knockoffs of Carlyle’s work, the legality of which I am unsure of. The briefest of google image searches for “self made man” will turn up at least half a dozen. There is a man (and a complementary sculpture of a woman) chiseling away his fat to render his body hard and ‘sculpted’. There’s a Dr. Manhattan carving himself out of stone; there’s a bigfoot-ish figure carving his way out of a tree stump; there’s a vaguely homoerotic version; and many others. And for those who prefer female figures, Carlyle has a Self-made Woman and also a Woman in Progress, which is her complement to Self-made Man.
The earliest conception I’ve found of the Self-made Man is Alfred Laliberté’s (1878-1953) type of 1926, a seated idealized portrait of the artist in the National Gallery of Canada in a radically different artistic style from Carlyle’s figure. That two artists (leaving aside the herd of copyists) independently created the image of a human chiseling himself out of stone perhaps indicates how inevitable the conceit is.
Carlyle’s type (figure 2) expresses tense power through the figure’s taut curves and contracted brow and dynamic power through the Berlioz hair. The man’s arm is drawn back just to the point where he will release the energy of his blow. If you think about it, if he can cut out his body at all he could cut it out in any posture (like Laliberté’s, for example), but Carlyle chose to have him emerge in a dynamic posture even though he’s anchored in the stone: his flexed left leg and right leg notionally extending behind him connotes a climb and thus a struggle.
Once one has looked carefully at the UNCC figure one can see how flat the McDonald figure is. The arms have lost their tension, the hands weakly grasp mallet and chisel, the face is tranquil, and the hair neat and in place. There is little tension or dynamism. The muscles of the torso do not contribute a sense of power under control because they are mere gouges into the surface that are like lines on paper.
It probably sounds like I hate the McDonald monument, but in fact I like it a lot; we must not expect in granite worked by a funerary cutter the expressiveness of the artist herself in bronze. Still, even in its etiolated form the Hickory Grove statue exudes a romantic, heroic ideal you might not expect in rural Pennsylvania. You will visit a great many cemeteries before you spot another like him, and he alone makes Hickory Grove worth the trip.