“Measured Perfection: Hiram Powers’ Greek Slave” reveals the inner workings of the studio of an artist and innovator who eagerly adapted long-standing traditions to new technologies of his age. Finished and unfinished artworks and a selection of tools reveal Powers’ creative process and ingenious experiments, including the practice of body casting. The installation is composed of 15 sculptures, plaster molds, casts and tools selected from an extensive collection acquired by the Smithsonian American Art Museum directly from Powers’ studio in Florence, Italy, in 1968, as well as a several archival images and a daguerreotype of the “Greek Slave.” The exhibition is organized by Karen Lemmey, sculpture curator.

The exhibition will allow viewers to see behind the scenes of a 19th-century sculpture studio through key objects like Powers’ life-size plaster model of the “Greek Slave,” the most highly acclaimed sculpture of its time, so famous that Powers applied for a U.S. patent to protect his design. This plaster prototype of the “Greek Slave” is studded with metal points that were used with a pointing machine–a clever, mechanical device that allowed Powers to make multiple marble replicas of his famed sculpture. X-rays of this unique plaster, recently made at the museum’s Lunder Conservation Center, encourage audiences to consider ways in which scholarship relies on current technology to interpret the past. Interactive didactic displays invite viewers to appreciate Powers’ innovative contributions to 19th-century sculpture, while videos of 3-D scanning and a pointing machine in use demonstrate how sculpture tools and techniques have changed since his time.


“Measured Perfection: Hiram Powers’ Greek Slave” is organized by the Smithsonian American Art Museum in collaboration with the United States Patent and Trademark Office.

The Smithsonian American Art Museum, located above the Gallery Place/Chinatown Metrorail station, is open daily from 11:30 a.m. to 7 p.m. (closed Dec. 25). Admission is free. Follow the museum on Twitter, YouTube, Tumblr, Instagram, Facebook, Flickr, iTunes U and ArtBabble. Smithsonian information: (202) 633-1000.

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