About this artwork
Emma Stebbins was a member of the community of women sculptors in Rome. Like their male colleagues, these women emulated the statues of antiquity, seeing in them the highest form of art. This rare pair of marble statues portrays a laborer and his apprentice, an unusual theme in mid-nineteenth-century American sculpture. Stebbins’s innovative conceit was to render a modern subject—the profession of the machinist—in the refined, Neoclassical visual language traditionally used to depict biblical, historical, and mythological subjects. Both figures can be identified as machinists by their clothing: cap, work shirt, leather apron, and long pants. The senior machinist holds a forging hammer and toothed gear, the means and ends of his labor; the young apprentice demonstrates his ability to improve on his teacher’s experience with a compass and drawing stylus. By using a Neoclassical idiom to represent a new, machine-based profession practiced by two generations of workers, Stebbins celebrated the possibilities of innovation and suggested the peaceful coexistence of traditional labor and mechanization.
- Emma Stebbins
- United States
- 74.9 × 29.2 × 29.2 cm (29 1/2 × 11 1/2 × 11 1/2 in.)
- Gift of the Antiquarian Society