Auctioneers and Appraisers

Carved and Painted Walnut Figure of William Penn






American Furniture & Decorative Arts - 2431
Date / Time :
November 01, 2008 3:00PM


Carved and Painted Walnut Figure of William Penn, by the Reverend Robert Smith Grier, signed and dated on the bottom of the base by the carver "Cut by Rev'd R.S. Grier March, 1853" and also signed in two additional places on the base, the figure and base with applied gold paint, ht. 12 1/2 in.

Provenance: By direct descent through the family from Robert Smith Grier to the present owner.

Note: The following research conducted by Ruth Richards in her history of Emmitsburg Presbyterian Church, Michael Hillman, the director of the Emmitsburg Area Historical Society, and the consignor, expands our knowledge about the figure and its maker: "Rev. Robert Grier was born in 1790 and died in 1865. He was born at Brandywine Manor, Chester County, PA, the son of the Presbyterian minister, Rev. Nathan Grier and Susanna Smith Grier. Rev. Nathan Grier's parents had emigrated from Northern Ireland. Robert Grier attended Brandywine Academy and graduated from Dickinson College in 1809. He studied theology under the instruction of his father, was licensed to preach in 1812 and installed as the pastor of the Presbyterian Church at Tom's Creek, MD, in April 1814...The church was moved in 1839 to Emmitsburg where the present church, built in 1904 following a fire, still stands. Rev. Grier served as the pastor of this church from 1814 until his death in 1865. A memorial pamphlet on the history of the Emmitsburg Presbyterian Church, published in 1875, mentions Reverend Robert Grier's wood carving talents." "He possessed a peculiar talent for carving in wood which afforded him pleasant recreation. Specimens of his skill in this department of the fine arts were liberally distributed among friends and parishioners. They include canes, fantastically ornamented; miniature spread eagles, horses and other animals and comic distortions. These serve as pleasant memories of a genius which, with proper direction and culture, might possibly have produced some great works of art."

Although Rev. Grier carved (or "cut" as he said) many eagles and canes, he only carved one statue of William Penn. "Dr. Grier had two heroes of religious significance, William Penn and George Calvert, the Catholic convert, both of whom obtained grants of vast size for colonies, which they insisted would be open to all faiths without fear or favor. So, Dr. Grier (thus the tradition) carved little statues of both his heroes." The following quotation about Rev. Grier may explain why the anti-slavery Quaker, William Penn, was a hero to him. "As an illustration of his [Rev. Grier's] intrepid fidelity, it may be mentioned that years before the system of slavery appeared to the eye of the nation as it now appears, and although he resided in a state where the system was legalized, he openly opposed it as a crime against God and man, and vindicated all proper measure to deliver the slave from bondage...The carvings of Rev. Robert S. Grier are unique in that he never sold one of them. "He bestowed them..the only way to get one was by gift of the carver or to buy one from a friend or relative to whom the Doctor has presented one."

Literature: "William Penn and George Calvert: Two Historically Important Figural Carvings by Dr Robert S. Grier Located as the Result of Original Spinning Wheel Research," The Spinning Wheel, October, 1952, pp. 12-13.
Estimate $4,000-6,000

There are breaks on both of the ankles, minor small spots of paint losses on hat brim, cheeks, hand in vest pocket, jacket hem, ankles, and shoes.


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