Exploring the collections of the Mercantile Library:

Thomas Gould, The West Wind
Visitors to the Mercantile Library have long been greeted by the over-life size marble sculpture The West Wind, by Thomas Ridgeway Gould (1818-1881). This month we celebrate Gould, who was born on November 6, 1818 and died on November 26, 1881, with a closer look at this dramatic sculpture.
Boston native Thomas Gould showed an interest in art early in his life, and although he studied drawing and modeling with Paris-trained portrait and figure artist Seth Cheney (1810-1856), he initially followed a more traditional career path. Gould was a successful businessman in partnership with his brother until the business failed as a consequence of the Civil War, and at that time he turned to sculpture as a career. His wide circle of wealthy and influential friends helped him secure a steady stream of clients for portrait busts and other sculptural subjects in the popular Neoclassical style. Gould’s early artistic success included having two works exhibited at the Boston Athenaeum in 1863. 

Five years later Gould moved his family to Florence, Italy, where he established a studio and pursued his career in earnest. He would remain in Florence for the rest of his life, with only periodic visits to the Boston area. In 1870, as his home country was anticipating its 100th birthday, Gould was completing this work that would celebrate the nation’s centennial in stone.
Gould’s personification of America in marble took the form of a striding female figure whose waist is encircled with a belt of stars representing the states, and whose skirt billows and flutters behind her. This exquisite example of marble carving is more than just a compositional element to describe the West Wind of the work’s title; by joining the skirt to the outcrop of rock behind her the sculptor has provided essential physical support for the hundreds of pounds of marble that could never have been held up by the figure’s feet as she balances delicately on her tip-toes.
The sculpture was originally purchased by New Yorker Demas S. Barnes (1827 – 1888) who made his fortune in the 1850s in patent medicine with branch operations in New Orleans and Montreal. From 1867-1869 he represented New York’s 2nd district in congress, and in 1873 he established and edited the Brooklyn Argus. He was also one of the original trustees of the Brooklyn Bridge when it was a private enterprise.
Demas Barnes, From The Atlantic To The Pacific, Overland:
A Series Of Letters By Demas Barnes, Describing A Trip From New York To San Francisco,
Thence Home, By Acapulco, And The Isthmus Of Panama
. (New York, 1866)
Barnes made a cross-country trip between 1862-1865 in order to personally investigate the gold and silver mines then being so widely promoted as endless resources with the goal to investigate their viability as potential business investments. He published the letters that he wrote to friends and family during this trip in 1866 with the title From the Atlantic to the Pacific, Overland, and in the introductory remarks Barnes reveals his disappointment with the bold claims regarding western mineral resources, stating:
We have been so long educated to believe that “Westward the star of Empire takes its way,” that we fail to realize that the resources of the country may not increase as we proceed towards the setting sun. Few travelers have cared to correct this opinion. If I stand alone to-day, I shall not when the subject is better understood; and these letters may be the means of saving others from sad disappointment.
Despite his conservative opinion of Manifest Destiny, Barnes added Gould’s marble sculpture The West Wind to his art collection shortly after it was made, perhaps inspired by his own westward travels. The art critic for The New York Times commented on Barnes’ new sculpture on February 16, 1871, noting that rather than an idealized Greek goddess, Gould had made his figure a “vigorous, full-blooded yet refined woman, such a one as may possibly be found occasionally in some of our Western homes.” The sculpture itself had travels ahead, as it may be the one that was displayed at the Philadelphia Centennial Exposition in 1876. Two extant catalogs give conflicting reports of who loaned the work, but the official guide indicates the Gould sculpture on display was owned by Demas Barnes.

After the early death of his first wife, Barnes married Anna Dorinda Blaksley, a native of St. Louis, in 1878. Although transplanted to New York, Mrs. Blaksley Barnes retained her ties to St. Louis, even maintaining a membership in the Mercantile Library. Demas Barnes died in 1888, and two years later his widow donated the sculpture to the Mercantile Library, where its acceptance was acknowledged in a glowing thank you letter to the donor signed by Mercantile Board President James A. Waterworth.
President’s correspondence letter book, archives of the St. Louis Mercantile Library at UMSL
From Florence to New York, possibly round-trip to Philadelphia, and then ultimately to St. Louis, and from 510 Locust to the UMSL campus, it has been a slow but steady trip westward for Thomas Gould’s The West Wind
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