Monday, September 30, 2013

Have you ever seen a "Rogers Group"?

The Millyard Museum, Manchester, New Hampshire
display of "Rogers Groups" and biographical information
on the sculptor John Rogers 

When I was in high school, I worked as a page at the Gale Free Public Library in Holden, Massachusetts.  This was an old stone building with two floors, and the children’s room was in the basement.  I had to run up and down the huge staircases to run errands for the librarians.  Halfway up the grand staircase to the upstairs reference room, there was a landing with a large window and several sculptures on the ledge.  I didn't know it at the time, but they were plaster statues known as “Rogers Groups”. 

One of these sculptural groups was a statue of the figures of John Alden and Priscilla Mullins, two Mayflower passengers.  It always made me pause to stop and look at the details.  John stood with his tall Puritan hat in his hands, looking nervous, as he asked Priscilla if she would marry Myles Standish.  She looked coy as she worked on a spinning wheel.  The words “Why don’t you speak for yourself, John?” were on the base.  Over the years since then, I have seen many copies of this same sculpture in other places, and many others called “Rogers Groups”.
"Why Don't You Speak For Yourself, John?"
photo from the New York Historical Society
Museum and Library website

I recently found out more about the artist John Rogers.  He was born in Salem, Massachusetts and at age 20, in 1850, he started working in the Amoskeag Millyard in Manchester, New Hampshire.  He dreamt of becoming an artist, and would mold small models in his boarding house dining room.   He finally went to Europe to study art and in 1863 started his own company in New York City to produce inexpensive plaster versions of his sculptures. 

Rogers Groups are usually formed out of two or three or more human figures, telling a story from popular literature, popular culture or history.  They were mass produced by the thousands for over thirty years.  You can find them on eBay, in antique stores, or maybe in your attic.  There are about 85 different patented groups.  They originally sold for about $14 each. Your ancestors may have had one in their parlor, or you might even have one in your attic.

My favorite place to see Rogers Groups is at the Vermont Country Store in Rockingham, Vermont. There are a few dozen on display, up above the store shelving, near the ceiling level.  Not many shoppers spend time looking at them, but I certainly do every time I am there!  Vrest Orton, who established the Vermont Country Store, wrote a book about his collection and the statues in 1968. 


There is a large bronze statue of Abraham Lincoln by John Rogers in the courtyard at Manchester Central High School in Manchester, New Hampshire.  It is one of only a few monumental sculptures by John Rogers, and it was erected in 1876. It was placed on a pedestal in 1910.  The small plaster version mass produced by the Rogers factory is one of the few “groups” with only one figure.  The school was established in 1846, and is New Hampshire’s oldest public high school.





For more information:

The Rogers Family Papers, 1614 – 1950 (bulk 1831 – 1950) are kept at the New York Historical Society Museum and Library, under MS 523   You can find a nice link to the story of John Rogers at this URL  www.johnrogers-history.org by the New York Historical Society.   

This website www.johnrogers.info has a photo with information on every John Rogers Group of statuary ever published.

The Famous Rogers Groups, by Vrest Orton, published by the Vermont Country Store, Rockingham, VT, 1968.  Available for sale at Abebooks.com  and it is also available to read online at Archive.org  at this link: http://archive.org/stream/staturlinc/staturlinc_djvu.txt (no illustrations for the online version) This book is a chronological checklist of over 80 popular sculptures.

John Rogers Statuary by Paul and Meta Bleier, Schiffer Publishers, 2nd edition, 2001.  This book chronicles every group with photographs, size, patent number or design date and stories.

John Rogers, The People’s Sculptor, by David H. Wallace, Wesleyan University Press, 1967.

Genealogy:
(I noticed his mother was a Derby, which led me to look up at his Salem ancestry)

Generation 1: Roger Derby, b. 1643 in Chard, Somersetshire, England, d. 26 September 1698 Salem, m. 23 August 1668 in Topsham, Devonshire, England to Lucretia Hilman

Generation 2: Richard Derby, b. 25 July 1679 Ipswich, d. 25 July 1715 Salem, m. 25 Feb 1702 in Salem to Martha Haskett

Generation 3: Richard Derby b. 16 September 1712 Salem, d. 1783 Salem, m. 3 Feb 1734 in Salem to Mary Hodges

Generation 4: Elias Haskett Derby b. 16 August 1739 Salem, d. 8 September 1799 m. 23 April 1761 in Salem to Elizabeth Crowninshield b. 1736 Salem

Generation 5: John Derby b. 9 May 1767 Salem, Massachusetts, d. 25 November 1831 Salem, m 12 December 1801 in Salem to Eleanor Coffin b. 22 July 1779 in Portland, Maine.

Generation 6: Sarah Ellen Derby b. 6 May 1805, Salem, Massachusetts m. 5 June 1827 in Boston to John Rogers b. about 1802, d. 15 June 1884 in Boston

Generation 7:  John Rogers, born 30 October 1829 in Salem, Massachusetts, died 26 July  1904 at New Canaan, Connecticut  m. 28 April 1865 in New York City to Harriet Moore Francis b. 18 August 1841 in New York City, New York, died 1927.

UPDATE 30 September 2013 2:45pm
The Epsom, New Hampshire Historical Society Blog has a nice post about John Roger's "The Council of War" statuette at their museum:
http://epsomhistory.blogspot.com/2013/06/john-rogers-council-of-war-at-museum.html

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The URL for this post is:
http://nutfieldgenealogy.blogspot.com/2013/09/have-you-ever-seen-rogers-group.html 

Copyright (c) 2013, Heather Wilkinson Rojo

4 comments:

  1. Yup.

    http://epsomhistory.blogspot.com/2013/06/john-rogers-council-of-war-at-museum.html

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks for your link! I've added it to my blog post.

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  2. One of the great things about genealogy blogs -- you can learn something new every day! I am sure I must have seen some Rogers Groups growing up in New England, but I had no idea what they were called or what the history was. Thank you for this interesting post. I now need to ask my parents about some of the small decorative items I recall my grandparents had in their homes.

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  3. I am a collector of and coauthor of a book on John Rogers statuary. So, if you have one, and would like some information about or, better yet, would like to sell it, I invite you to visit my website johnrogers.info or you can write to me at brucebleier@aol.com. I look forward t hearing from you!

    ReplyDelete