Hathaway, Isaac Scott 1874–1967
Isaac Scott Hathaway 1874–1967
Best known for his busts of prominent African Americans, most notably Paul Lawrence Dunbar, Booker T. Washington, and Frederick Douglass; Isaac Scott Hathaway also designed the Booker T. Washington and George Washington Carver half dollar pieces. Hathaway’s career developed during the Harlem Renaissance, a time in which African-American poets, artists, writers, and intellectuals made their presence felt in American culture. Yet in many ways, Hathaway’s ideas and principles anticipated the Harlem Renaissance.
Hathaway, born in 1874 in Lexington, Kentucky, was one of three children. His mother died when he was just three years of age. His two sisters, Fannie and Eva, were sent off to be raised by their grandmother, while he remained with his father, the Reverend Hathaway of the Christian Church in Lexington. His father provided Isaac with a stimulating childhood and a good education.
Hathaway decided to become an artist at a very early age for very compelling reasons. At the age of nine, while accompanying his father on a tour of a museum that exhibited the busts of famous Americans, young Isaac was determined to find the bust of his favorite hero and role model, Frederick Douglass. Disappointed not to have found what he was looking for, he asked his father why Douglass was not among the busts that were on display. Reverend Hathaway explained to his son that, at that time, there were no trained black sculptors who could provide the public with statues and busts of prominent blacks. In addition, his father explained that while there were many important and famous blacks who deserved to be honored, their likenesses would not be displayed in public places. Determined, Isaac Hathaway declared, according to www.liu.edu, “I am going to model busts of Negroes and put them where people can see them.”
A determined and inventive young artist, Hathaway fashioned his first art studio out of a chicken coop. He pursued his art education with a mission, receiving training at several schools. He attended Chandler College in his hometown of Lexington for a while and then moved to Pittsburgh to study ceramics at Pittsburgh Normal College. Wanting to learn more about fine arts, Hathaway enrolled in the Art Department of the New England Conservatory of Music in Boston and later the Cincinnati Art Academy in Cincinnati. He also received additional ceramics education at the College of Ceramics at the State University of New York at Alfred, New York.
After college, Hathaway became an elementary school teacher, thereby applying his diverse educational background to support his artistic endeavors. Conversely, he used his knowledge of art to enhance his effectiveness as an educator. For example, he prepared plaster of Paris models for his science classes, also creating the human skeleton to teach his students about the human body.
After Hathaway gained local fame as a sculptor, his friends and peers who appreciated his talents and his work, suggested that he establish his own company so that he could distribute his sculptural work on a national
Born Isaac Scott Hathaway, April 4, 1987, in Lexington Kentucky; died 1967. Education: Chandler College, attended; Pittsburgh Normal College, studied ceramics; New England Conservatory of Music; Cincinnati Art Academy; State University of New York, College of Ceramics.
Career: Teacher at the elementary and college level, most notably at the Tuskegee Institute in Alabama, 1937-1947; designer of two commemorative coins for the U.S. Mint; sculptural designer for the Smithsonian Institute.
level. His company was first called the Afro Art Company, and then at a later time changed its name to the Isaac Hathaway Art Company. Essentially, Hathaway fulfilled his boyhood dream of becoming an artist who would create sculptures and busts of prominent African Americans such as his hero, Frederick Douglass, as well as Booker T. Washington, Paul Lawrence Dunbar, George Washington Carver, Richard Allen, Mary McLeod Bethune, Dr. Charles Drew, and C.C. Spaul-ding. His work was sold to various public places, including libraries, schools, churches, places of business, and government buildings. Hathaway also produced masks, plaques, and bronze sculptures.
A versatile figurative artist, Hathaway was able to work with large figures as well as miniatures, and was the first artist to make death masks of prominent African Americans. Isaac Scott Hathaway was also the first African American to design a coin for the United States. In 1946 Hathaway was commissioned by President Harry S. Truman to design a half dollar coin, according to www.liu.edu, “to commemorate the life and perpetuate the ideas and teachings of Booker T. Washington.” A few years later, in 1951, Hathaway was chosen to design the commemorative George Washington Carver half dollar piece.
Hathaway was an esteemed educator as well as a talented artist and innovator. Much of his work was done in ceramic, a medium in which he excelled. He taught at several colleges, including the Tuskegee Institute, Alabama A&M College, and Alabama State College, where he founded and headed Ceramic departments. As he lived and worked in Alabama, it is not surprising that his favorite medium contained Alabama clay. After years of working with his mixture of clay, he developed a method that gave the final product a translucent quality. At one time during his career, Hathaway was a sculptural designer for the New National Museum of the Smithsonian Institute.
Hathaway’s art has been largely ignored perhaps because he was a classical, figurative artist whose career developed during a time when experimentation was the norm. Historians could state that his career flourished because it coincided with the Harlem Renaissance, but essentially, Hathaway’s ideals enhanced the teachings and ideals of that era. Hathaway claimed, “that the art of a people not only conveys their mental, spiritual, and civic growth to posterity, but convinces their contemporaries that they can best portray in crystallization their feelings, aspirations, and desires.”
Cederholm, Theresa Dickason. Afro-American Artists. Trustees of the Boston Public Library, 1973.
Walker, Rosalyn. A Resource Guide to the Visual Arts of Afro-Americans, 1971.
Negro History Bulletin, January, 1954.
—Christine Miner Minderovic
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