Walker Kirtland Hancock (June 28, 1901 - December 30, 1998) was an American sculptor and teacher. He created notable monumental sculptures, including the Pennsylvania Railroad World War II Memorial (1950-52) at 30th Street Station in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, and the World War I Soldiers' Memorial (1936-38) in St. Louis, Missouri. He made major additions to the National Cathedral in Washington, DC, including Christ in Majesty (1972), the bas relief over the High Altar. Works by him are at the United States Military Academy (West Point), the Library of Congress, the United States Supreme Court Building, and the United States Capitol.
During World War II, he was one of the Monuments Men, who recovered art treasures looted by the Nazis. Hancock was awarded the National Medal of Arts in 1989 and the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1990.
He was born in St. Louis, Missouri, the son of Walter Scott Hancock, a lawyer, and wife Anna Spencer. He had two older sisters and one younger.:1 He attended St. Louis public schools and Central High School.:11 From age 14, he attended Wednesday night and all-day Saturday classes at Washington University's School of Fine Arts.:9 He graduated from high school in 1919, and spent the summer taking classes at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.:16 He enrolled at Washington University in the fall, and the following summer worked as an assistant to his teacher, Victor Holm, helping to complete the sculpture program for the Missouri State Monument at Vicksburg National Military Park.:15 In Fall 1920, he transferred to the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, to study under Charles Grafly.:279
As a student at PAFA, he won the 1921 Edmund Stewardson Prize, and the 1922 and 1923 Cresson Traveling Scholarships, enabling him to travel through Europe. His Bust of Toivo (1925, St. Louis Art Museum) was awarded PAFA's 1925 George D. Widener Memorial Gold Medal.:279
A 1929 automobile accident left Grafly gravely injured. On his deathbed, he asked Hancock to succeed him as PAFA's Instructor of Sculpture.:279 Hancock held that position from 1929 to 1967, with interruptions for his war service and two years as sculptor-in-residence at the American Academy in Rome (1956-57).:279
Because he spoke fluent Italian, Hancock was recruited into Army intelligence, where he wrote a handbook for soldiers serving in Italy. He won the national competition to design the Air Medal (1942), established by President Franklin D. Roosevelt, to honor "any person who, while serving in any capacity in the Army, Navy, Marine Corps or Coast Guard of the United States subsequent to September 8, 1939, distinguishes, or has distinguished, himself by meritorious achievement while participating in an aerial flight."
On December 4, 1943, three weeks before being shipped overseas, he married Saima Natti (1905–1984) in a chapel at the National Cathedral in Washington, D.C. Later, he would make major additions to the cathedral, including the altarpiece for the Good Shepherd Chapel (1957); half-life-size statues of Ulrich Zwingli (1965) and Martin Luther (1967); Christ in Majesty (1972), the bas relief over the High Altar; and a life-size statue of Abraham Lincoln (1984).
Hancock was posted in London in early 1944, where he researched and wrote reports on monuments and art works in occupied France.
"He was one of 10 officers sent to the continent after D-Day to implement the Allied Expeditionary Force's policy to avoid, wherever military exigency would permit, damage to structures, documents or other items of historical or artistic importance and to prevent further deterioration of those already damaged. With personnel and equipment for this seemingly hopeless task in short supply, Captain Hancock had to rely on his ingenuity, resourcefulness, and extensive knowledge of European cultural history to rescue countless treasures from dampness, fire, weather and the depredations of looters and troops requiring billets.":32
Hancock died in 1998 in Gloucester, Massachusetts.
Hancock's first major commission was the Jessie Tennille Maschmeyer Memorial Fountain (1931-32) for the St. Louis Zoo. A drinking fountain featuring a pedestal flanked by twin basins, the severe Art Deco-Pueblo architecture of its granite base served as inspiration for Hancock's central figure, a Zuni Bird Charmer.:21 The larger-than-life-sized figure of a loin-clothed kneeling man with a bird perched on each wrist, won Hancock PAFA's 1932 Fellowship Prize.:279 The fountain is located beside the east entrance to the zoo's Bird House.
Charles Lindbergh worked as a flight instructor and airmail pilot in St. Louis in the 1920s. On May 20-21, 1927, he piloted a locally-built plane, The Spirit of St. Louis, on the first successful non-stop trans-Atlantic flight—from Long Island, New York to Paris, France. This won him the $25,000 Orteig Prize, and made him an international celebrity. Later that year, Lindbergh lent his awards, trophies and memorabilia to the Missouri Historical Society, which exhibited them at the city's Jefferson Memorial Building. Lindberg deeded the collection to the historical society in 1935, and in 1941 commissioned Hancock to create a work honoring those who had sponsored and built The Spirit of St. Louis. Hancock's marble bas-relief plaque – an allegory portraying Louis IX of France (Saint Louis) launching a falcon into flight – was installed at the Missouri History Museum in 1942.:31
Perhaps Hancock's most famous work is the Pennsylvania Railroad World War II Memorial (1950-52), at 30th Street Station in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. The 39-foot (11.9 m) monument is dedicated to the 1,307 PRR employees who died in the war, whose names are listed on bronze panels on its tall, black-granite base. Hancock's heroic bronze, Angel of the Resurrection, depicts Michael the Archangel raising up a fallen soldier from the Flames of War. It was his favorite sculpture.:279
In 1964, Hancock took over supervision of the Confederate Memorial at Stone Mountain, Georgia.:221-23 The proposed relief carving, the size of a football field, had been begun in 1917 by Gutzon Borglum. Borglum was dismissed in 1925, and replaced by Augustus Lukeman. (Borglum went on to design and carve Mount Rushmore.) No work had been done since 1928.:221-23 Hancock simplified Lukeman's model, eliminating the horses' lower bodies and legs, and made design adjustments as problems arose with the carving or stone. He modeled towers to flank the carving, but they were never executed due to lack of money.:221-23 Roy Faulkner completed the carving of the memorial in 1972.:280
For Trinity Episcopal Church, Topsfield, Massachusetts, Hancock created an immersive sculpture group, The Garden of Gethsemane (1965-66). On one side of a garden, a kneeling figure of Christ, seen from behind, agonizes about offering himself up for sacrifice, while on the other side his disciples, Peter, James, John, huddle together asleep. The sculpture group was commissioned as a memorial to Jonathan Daniels, an Episcopal seminarian murdered during the Civil Rights Movement. A duplicate of Christ Praying is at Rev. Daniels's alma mater, the Episcopal Divinity School in Cambridge, Massachusetts. A duplicate of the 2-part work is at a Trappist monastery in Kentucky.
At upper right: The Bond of Postal Union pediment (1934), New Post Office Building (now part of the William Jefferson Clinton Federal Building), Washington, D.C.
Bas relief busts (1934-35), Liberty Memorial, Kansas City, Missouri.
River Traffic (1936), Kansas City City Hall, Missouri.
John Paul Jones (1957), Philadelphia Museum of Art Sculpture Garden, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.
Paul Weeks Litchfield (1961), Goodyear Tire and Rubber Company, Akron, Ohio.
Vice President Alben W. Barkley (1960-63), Kentucky State Capitol.
Chief Justice Earl Warren (1977), U. S. Supreme Court Building, Washington, D.C.
Vice-President Hubert H. Humphrey, Jr. (1981-82), U. S. Capitol, Washington, D.C.
Chief Justice Warren E. Burger (1983), U. S. Supreme Court Building, Washington, D.C.
He served as a member of the Smithsonian Institution's National Collection of Fine Arts Commission. He was elected an associate member of the National Academy of Design in 1936, and an academician in 1939. He was inducted into the American Academy of Arts and Letters in 1941. For his body of work, he was awarded the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts's Medal of Honor in 1953, and the National Sculpture Society's Herbert Adams Medal of Honor in 1954.
From 1930 onwards, he kept a studio in Gloucester, Massachusetts, to which he ultimately retired. Saima Natti Hancock, his wife of 40 years, died in 1984. The Cape Ann Historical Association mounted a 1989 retrospective exhibition of his works, and published his autobiography, A Sculptor's Fortunes (1997).
He endowed Massachusetts's Walker Hancock Prize, given for excellence in the arts. The National Sculpture Society has an annual prize named for him. His papers are at the Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution, and in the Hancock Family Archives in Gloucester, Massachusetts.
Several of his works can be found at Saint Mary's Episcopal Church, Rockport, Massachusetts. He and his wife are buried at Seaside Cemetery, Gloucester, Massachusetts.
1925 Borglum is dismissed and Augustus Lukeman is hired as sculptor. Lukeman removes Borglum's work and begins his own design.