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Hood Museum of Art
Dartmouth College
Hanover, NH 03755

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John Bernard Flannagan, American, 1895-1942

Purchased through a gift from Jane P. and W. David Dance, Class of 1940; S.992.7


John Bernard Flannagan was a key figure associated with the earlytwentieth- century rise of the direct carving tradition. In this approach to sculpture, there is no model; the form evolves from the process of carving and the inherent qualities of the material. Flannagan drew upon primitivism and Jungian symbolism to uncover the primordial and natural essence of his subjects and materials. As he wrote in 1941, “To that instrument of the subconscious, the hand of a sculptor, there exists an image within every rock. The creative act of realization merely frees it.” Although Flannagan had studied painting for several years at the Minneapolis School of Art, he was essentially self-taught as a sculptor. After carving initially in wood, he experimented with a range of stones, including smooth marble, as seen here. He soon worked exclusively in more rustic “natural” stones, such as fieldstones, which he would pick from the ground during “stone hunts.” Working with a light, graphic touch, he would carve away as little stone as possible in order to release his subject. He drew on archetypal imagery that had long traditions in ancient and non-Western sculpture, especially women and animals, often set within womblike forms. In its oblong head and stylized hair and features, Head has the simplicity and timelessness of archaic sculpture. Its large, pupil-less eyes are minimally carved, giving the work a mysterious aura. Flannagan wrote in the late 1930s, “My aim . . . is to create . . . sculpture with such ease, freedom and simplicity that it hardly seems carved but to have endured always.”

Last Updated: 4/29/09