Friday, January 22, 2010

Meet Mr. Jefferson and General Lee

The MMI Archives includes two large, unique busts of Thomas Jefferson and Robert E. Lee, both of which were formerly housed in the MMI Library, both past and present. Both sculptures sat on the floor of the MMI Archives until recently when Mr. John L. Hunter, MMI JC 1971, graciously purchased two beautiful cherry wood pedestals on which to display them. Both Mr. Jefferson and “Marse Robert” have seen better days as both were subject to various cadet pranks and vandalism over the years (General Lee reportedly hung from the Marion water tower across from the Institute!).

Entitled “The Beloved General,” the original solid wood bust of Robert E. Lee was sculpted by Bruno Louis Zimm (1876-1943), and was presented to MMI on January 19, 1960, by Mrs. Louise Hasbrouck Zimm and Dr. Bruno H. Zimm, donors.

Here are three images of our Lee bust taken by Kelly Griffiths, director of our library:

Among other notable works, Bruno Louis Zimm sculpted three panels entitled “The Struggle for the Beautiful” for the Palace of Fine Arts in San Francisco, CA. (Credit:

If you are a Virginian – and, especially if you attended Jefferson’s University of Virginia in Charlottesville – Thomas Jefferson is always referred to as Mr. Jefferson and he is spoken of as if he were just around the corner. You’ll hear the term “Jeffersonian” a lot! Monticello (the “Big House”), Jefferson’s home, overlooks Charlottesville and his University.

Our bust of Mr. Jefferson probably came to MMI via Hopson Owen Murfee, son of our founder, James T. Murfee, and MMI’s second president. H. O. and his younger brother, Walter Lee Murfee (MMI’s third president), both graduated from the University of Virginia. The sculpture adorned the room of the Jefferson Literary Society in The Chapel here at MMI, the counterpart to the (Benjamin) Franklin Literary Society which also had a room in The Chapel.

Responding to my inquiry, Elizabeth Chew, Curator, Monticello, Thomas Jefferson Foundation in Charlottesville, VA, informed me that our Jefferson bust was done by sculptor Sidney H. Morse (1833-1903), probably around the time of the Centennial of 1876. Obviously, this is not a “life portrait” as Jefferson died in 1826, before Morse was born. The bust was mass-produced and sold through the catalogues of the various companies that produced them. We have a plaster copy.

Here are three images of our Jefferson bust taken by Kelly Griffiths. The first one highlights one of the beautiful pedestals purchased by John L. Hunter, MMI JC 1971, of Hilton Head Island, South Carolina. Thank you, Mr. Hunter!

Sidney Morse also sculpted busts of Ralph Waldo Emerson and Thomas Paine. A New England Transcendentalist like Emerson, Morse was the editor of a periodical called The Radical.

In addition to sending images of our Jefferson bust to the Thomas Jefferson Foundation at Monticello in Virginia, I also sent images of our Lee sculpture to the Museum of the Confederacy in Richmond, VA, and to the Lee Chapel Museum at Washington and Lee University in Lexington, VA. I wanted these venerable institutions to know that these busts were on display in the MMI Archives.