Born in Chesterfield, Larkin Mead was the son of a prominent Brattleboro, VT lawyer. A natural artist who loved carving, he was working in a hardware store when his talent was discovered by a New York artist. Encouraged, he studied sculpturing with Henry Brown in New York from 1853 - 1855. But, when he returned home, he was unable to find work as a sculptor. Instead he set up a studio in Brattleboro’s Town Hall and started giving drawing lessons. On New Year’s Eve 1855, as a practical joke, he created an 8-foot snow statue of a recording angel, who some say, looked to be marking down all the sins and misdeeds of the local townspeople. Constructing it took him all night. He did have the help of his two friends, Edward and Henry Burnham, who provided snow and doused his handy work with water, giving it a frozen sheen. The Snow Angel captured the attention of the press, appearing in newspapers throughout the country and catapulted him into a life-long career. (See Tales and Legends for the whole Snow Angel story.)
His first large commission was the 19-foot figure of Agriculture (1858) for the top of the Vermont Statehouse in Montpelier. This work proved so successful that he was commissioned to do a statue of Ethan Allen (1858 – 1861) for the statehouse too. (This work is now a part of the National Statuary Hall Collection in the US Capitol, Washington DC).
During the early part of the Civil War, he worked as an illustrator for Harper’s Weekly and was at the front for six months with the Army of the Potomac. In 1862 he left for Italy, where he worked in Florence and spent part of the time attached to the US consulate in Venice, where his brother-in-law was stationed as a diplomatic consul. He married in Venice and returned to the States in 1865, only to sail back to Italy a short time later. He established a studio in Florence and worked there until his death in 1910. He is buried in Cimitero Evangelico degli Allorie in the southern suburb of Florence, Italy.
Living abroad didn’t affect his career. His portfolio of work commissioned in the US is quite extensive. Among them is the granite and marble Lincoln’s Tomb (1870 – 1883), the elegantly sculptured mausoleum for President Lincoln and his family in Springfield, IL. Also he did several sculptures for the Chicago World’s Fair 1893. Although his neoclassical style was falling out of favor, it matched the needs of municipal and historical buildings throughout the country. His works are now displayed in the Smithsonian American Art Museum, the Metropolitan Museum of Art in NYC, several colleges, libraries and State Capitols from California to Maine. However, it wasn’t until 1883 that he recreated the Snow Angel in marble. A replica of it adorns his Italian grave. (Left)
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