Willard Hirsch, Prominent 20th Century Charleston Artist and Sculptor

Willard N. Hirsch was a leading figure in the Charleston Arts Community from 1945 until his death in 1982. He received his formal art training in New York City at the National Academy of Design and Beaux Arts Institute.

After completing his studies and exhibiting his work in New York, he returned to his native city of Charleston in the early 1940's to establish his studio in the region he loved and found inspiring.

Throughout his long and accomplished career, he remained active in his spacious Queen Street studio completing public and private commissions for state and governmental buildings, colleges, universities, and private collectors.

His sculpture is represented in national and regional collections including that of Brookgreen Gardens, The South Carolina State Museum,The Gibbs Museum of Art, Clemson University, The College of Charleston, SC State University, Ashley Hall School, The Charleston County Library System,The Richland County Public Library System, The City of Charleston (White Point Gardens and The Gaillard Municipal Auditorium), and SC National Guard Armory buildings statewide, to name a few. Click Here for a listing of his work from the Smithsonian Institution Archives of American Art.

I had the privilege of working for Mr. Hirsch as his studio assistant from 1979 to 1981.

Unlike artistic contemporaries such as William Halsey, Willard Hirsch's efforts to advance the Arts in Charleston during the later period of the "Charleston Renaissance" have not been as well documented for future reference.

Toward the end of his career, Mr. Hirsch was honored with a retrospective exhibition of his work by the Gibbes Museum of Art in Charleston. I am posting pictures I took of Mr. Hirsch, museum guests and his sculpture at the opening reception of that historic exhibit, because I haven't seen other accounts to record the event.

These pictures show but a small portion of this under recognized artist's contribution to the advancement of the Visual Arts in Charleston during his lifetime.

The scope and diversity of artwork presented by the exhibition organizer Gibbs Museum of Art Curator of Collections Martha R. Severnes was impressive. Included in the exhibition organized by the Gibbs Museum's  Curator of Collections Martha R. Severens were large scale works carved in exotic woods and stone. Bronze and terra-cotta figures representing themes from religion, mythology, and history were presented along with selected works from his extensive body of public and private portraiture.

It was and remains an unequaled, accomplished body of work by any sculptural artist in Charleston or the region from that time to the present.

Sculptor Willard Hirsch (rt.) explains an artistic concept.

Mrs. Willard N. Hirsch (nee: Mordenai Raisin) among displays of bronze and terra cotta portrait busts at the Gibbs Museum of Art, Lower Gallery.

Reception guests view "The Falling Angel" and a portrait bust of South Carolina's legendary Statesman, L. Mendel Rivers in the background.

The "Little Dancer", a popular figure of the Children's Fountain in White Point Gardens at Charleston's Battery, was prominently displayed along with a bas relief of children dancing and a sculpture of a young child.

Here are a few examples of the portraits assembled in one of the museum's main floor galleries. Many prominent Charleston families had several generations of family member's portraits sculpted by Mr. Hirsch in his long and prolific career.

In 1979, rows of commissioned portraits lined the shelves of bookcases in his Queen Street studio, as the artist signed a finished bas relief portrait.


Anonymous said...

I remember visiting Mr.Hirsch's Queen St. studio with my grandson when he had his portrait made.

We enjoyed watching the fish in the large fish tanks Mr. Hirsch kept in the studio. It was a good way to keep him still while Mr. Hirsch worked. How excited he was when Mr. Hirsch let him feed the fish.

Katherine Muschick Schneider said...

What a nice memory for you and your grandson.

I remember the impressive collection of fresh and salt water fish in the studio.

Mr. Hirsch had a life long interest in fish that he said started as a boy catching minnows with his friends in Chas.

Thanks for stopping by the blog.

Dean said...

Is it possible to find a reproduction of the "Little Dancer" .. I have searched to no avail

Katherine Muschick Schneider said...

Hi Dean,
During his lifetime, Mr. Hirsch had a limited number of bronze castings of “The Little Dancer” produced. The molds for these figures were distroyed at Mr. Hirsch's request to prevent unauthorized castings from being made.
I don’t know of any of the original limited edition statues of his "Little Dancer for sale by their owners at this time.

ElizabethFox said...

I have a beautiful terra cota sculpture by Mr.Hirsch and would like to know more about it. It belonged to my aunt, Mrs. Nell Murray Frain, a Charlestonian who had a collection of art collected during he lifetime. She was a long time resident of Washington, DC. This sculpture shows four girls dancing around, and she wanted me to have it because it reminded her of my four girls. Any info wdill be appreciated. My e-mail is emfox717@gmail.com
Elizabeth Fox, Athens, Ga.

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