By Richard O Jones
HEY! Hamilton! Exclusive
Jon Thiem, great-grandson of Hamilton sculptor Rudolph Thiem, has created a web site to pay homage to the man whose main claim to fame is the creation of “Victory: Jewel of the Soul,” better known as Billy Yank, atop the Soldiers, Sailors and Pioneers Monument on High Street.
The site is the most comprehensive look at Rudolph Thiem and his work that I’ve yet to see. It includes a complete biography and many photos of Thiem’s other works, even those he created in Germany before he came to the United States in 1881.
Thiem was 24 years old when he first came to New Orleans to work in a foundry, but relocated to Hamilton five years later to work as a designer in Lazard Kahn’s stove factory for three years. By 1895 he had set up his own studio.
“His works in bronze include public sculptures, plaques, and reliefs,” Jon Thiem writes. “He also designed bronze medallions for Civil War monuments in National Battlefield parks. As an ornamental wood carver, he made a range of art furnishings, including chairs, cabinet doors, hall trees, church pews, and picture frames. At the same time, he continued to do design projects for manufacturers. “
His “magnum opus,” of course, was Billy Yank, and Jon Thiem gives a detailed account of how he got that gig and the controversy behind it when people complained that the soldier was saluting with the wrong hand.
In Rudolph Thiem’s own words:
The soldier . . . is not saluting, but shouting; he gives the expression of victory and in such a supreme moment all regulations are forgotten: in this spirit the design was considered and accepted by the committee. If I had designed a soldier in the attitude of a salute he certainly would have been in conformity with the regulations of the U.S. army in force during the Civil war, but as he gives the expression of victory he knows no regulation at that joyous moment. I hope that the citizens of Hamilton will look at this question from this point of view.
Sadly, Rudolph Thiem’s life was not without tragedy. The site includes a 1913 photograph of his North B. Street studio when it was destroyed in the flood.
“The flood waters swept away Thiem’s tools, models, plaster casts, and letters,” Jon Thiem writes. “The studio had to be demolished. The railroad car in front of the house to the left shows the force of the high water.”
Thoroughly researched and sources cited, “Rudolph Thiem: Designer” is an informative and welcome addition to the historic canon of Hamilton and Butler County.