From the 1890s to the 1910s, Hettie Anderson (1873-1938) ranked as one of New York’s most sought-after artists’ models, with a client roster including Art Students League faculty and graduates. Yet even as her sculpted and painted likeness was immortalized on buildings, monuments and coins, she never sought attention. She fell into some obscurity after her death, but scholars—including her relatives—have recently brought her accomplishments back to light.
Anderson, who was African American, came to New York in the 1890s from South Carolina, along with other members of her highly educated family. She was hired by sculptors and painters as prominent as John La Farge, Augustus Saint-Gaudens, Daniel Chester French, Evelyn Beatrice Longman and Adolph Alexander Weinman. Modeling could be a challenging career path—Anderson’s colleagues Audrey Munson and Evelyn Nesbit were caught up in public scandals involving adultery and murder—but Anderson maintained her privacy, dignity and independence.
“She was a quiet, purposeful person who was very professional and respected as a powerful entity—which resulted in beautiful artworks,”— Willow Hagans, an independent researcher who is also a cousin of Anderson’s.
Hagans and her late husband William E. Hagans first started researching Anderson around 1980, when William’s elderly grandmother Jeanne Wallace McCampbell Lee mentioned that there had been an artists’ model in the family. “Cousin Tootie” was the family nickname for Hettie, whose full name at birth was Harriette Eugenia Dickerson (no one knows the origins of the last name Anderson that she used as an adult). The Haganses, whose scholarly fields have included the history of American coins as well as the Swedish artist Anders Zorn (1860-1920), tirelessly researched Cousin Tootie for decades and published writings about her in periodicals including the American Art Journal
In fall 2020, I joined Willow Hagans on the scholarly trail, after visiting an exhibition at the Metropolitan Museum of Art featuring Saint-Gaudens’s reduced-scale version of his larger-than-life allegorical figure of Victory on the monument honoring the Civil War general William Tecumseh Sherman at Grand Army Plaza in Manhattan. The Met’s exhibition label noted that Anderson was black, had posed for a number of New York artists around 1900, and had later worked at the Met. My eyes stung for a moment reading that; I realized she could have been standing right where I was standing, looking at a version of younger herself covered in gold. I wondered what that was like, and I was connected with Willow through Henry Duffy, the recently retired curator at the Saint-Gaudens National Historical Park in Cornish, New Hampshire. Willow and I are still exploring many mysteries about the life of Cousin Tootie.
Anderson grew up in Columbia, South Carolina, while Reconstruction was underway and the town was undergoing literal reconstruction—devastating fires had broken out when Sherman’s forces arrived at the end of the Civil War. Her mother Caroline Lee Scott (1839-1928) was a prosperous seamstress who bought an entire street corner before the Civil War. Other family members thrived as builders, professors, pharmacists, physicians, and politicians. Caroline also had a son, Charles Dickerson—his and Hettie’s father is listed in government documents as Benjamin Dickerson. (No other identifying details about Benjamin have surfaced.)
By the late 1800s, as racism blocked professional opportunities for South Carolina’s black population, Anderson’s relatives scattered to major cities in the Midwest and Northeast. Around 1895, she and her mother rented an apartment on Amsterdam Avenue at West 94th Street on Manhattan’s Upper West Side, where they remained for the rest of their lives. They were listed as “white” in Manhattan census records but were not “passing”—that is, they stayed in touch with relatives who were activists in the black world. It is not clear how and why Anderson found her way to classes at the Art Students League—she is said to have studied and modeled there as soon as she migrated northward—and made a leap to the center of the New York art world.
Among her first clients was the artist John La Farge, who rendered her as a willowy Athenian deity in a lunette mural at Bowdoin College’s art museum. Within a few years of her career debut, Saint-Gaudens deemed her “the Goddess-like Miss Anderson.” He considered her “the handsomest model I have ever seen of either sex,” and he relied on her talent for “posing patiently, steadily and thoroughly in the spirit one wished.” When he was commissioned by President Theodore Roosevelt to design gold coins that would rival ancient Greek and Roman precedents, he adapted the Sherman Monument’s Victory into an allegorical figure of Liberty for a $20 gold coin. Roosevelt praised the results as “daring and original” as well as “worthy of this country.”
Saint-Gaudens respected the goddess-like model to the point that he gave her a bust of herself that he had created while completing the Sherman Monument design. In 1908, soon after Saint-Gaudens’s death, Anderson copyrighted the bust, which had been cast in bronze. His family wanted to make replicas for sale, but she refused, insisting it would remain most valuable as “the only one in existence.” She lent it to a Saint-Gaudens retrospective that traveled widely. (In 1990, it surfaced at a Christie’s auction in New York, where the Haganses purchased it.)
She sometimes spent weeks at a time at artists’ country estates, including Daniel Chester French’s Chesterwood in Stockbridge, Massachusetts. French lauded her “perfect faithfulness and thoroughness and conscientiousness” in the workplace. He hired her for Truth, a bas relief of a seer bearing a looking glass and a crystal ball on a bronze vestibule door of the Boston Public Library; The Spirit of Life, a bronze goddess holding a bowl and pine bough in Congress Park in Saratoga Springs, New York; and Mourning Victory, the centerpiece of a Civil War memorial at Sleepy Hollow Cemetery in Concord, Massachusetts. Anderson also posed for French’s Angel of Peace on the grave of the blueblood philanthropist and art collector Rutherfurd Stuyvesant in northern New Jersey, and Sculpture, an allegorical figure on the grounds of the Saint Louis Art Museum portraying an enthroned woman holding a carving tool and cradling two unfinished human figures. Anderson was hired as well by French’s protégée Evelyn Beatrice Longman, who created numerous public monuments and cemetery memorials. Adolph Alexander Weinman, a mentee and collaborator of French and Saint-Gaudens, adapted her image for Civic Fame, a gilded copper goddess atop the David N. Dinkins Manhattan Municipal Building.
“Because she was so much in demand,” Willow Hagans says, “she could pick and choose which artists she wanted to pose for.”
Anderson nonetheless managed to avoid publicity. A handful of newspaper articles mention her, giving a few details of her appearance and client list. But no reporter seems to have ever interviewed her as they deemed her “of the heroic type.”
In the late 1910s, as wartime shortages slowed the pace of construction and the advent of Cubism reduced demand for goddess-like models, Anderson’s artist friends helped her land a job as a classroom attendant at the Met. She would have walked past her own image in the galleries as sculpted by French and Saint-Gaudens. And in her duties of tidying up the museum’s large collection of lantern slides, she might have filed away photographs on glass of artworks that she had inspired.
Around 1920, she retired, in declining health, yet she left a substantial estate when she died in 1938. She and Caroline are buried in unmarked graves in a mostly white cemetery in Columbia, near Confederate memorials and the burial places of Woodrow Wilson’s family members.
Her likenesses radiate calm, strength and dignity in numerous public places. They also circulate on the market, in the form of statues and $20 gold coins, which sometimes sell for millions of dollars each. In 2023, artworks that Anderson modeled for will be featured in the American Federation of Arts traveling show, Monuments and Myths: The America of Sculptors Augustus Saint-Gaudens and Daniel Chester French.
I visit the Sherman Monument often. I eavesdrop as people take selfies below her sandaled, striding feet. Almost no one reads the nearby Parks Department plaque, explaining the sculpture’s importance and identifying Anderson. I admire her ferocity. I wonder just how many hours she had posed for Saint-Gaudens, “patiently, steadily and thoroughly,” and how much delight she felt when she filed the copyright forms for his gift of her Victory bust.
From Digital to Paper
Before my time at the League, I was mostly a digital artist, so I was really looking forward to drawing on paper. I also had never had an actual art class before, so I came in really looking forward to absorbing any training I could get. In my short time here, I’ve gained a better understanding of lighting and shading and really fallen in love with this medium.
I still have a lot of improving to do, but I definitely feel more capable of doing it because of the fundamentals Costa taught me in class. I’ve already noticed how much faster I can sketch and render and how much faster I can identify shapes.
I find Costa’s comments on people’s drawings very helpful because he makes them to the whole class. This class has made me eager to improve and learn more, and to continue being a student with the League.
City-As-School High School 2021
Seeds of the League Scholarship 2021
Process before surrealism
I want to study at the Art Students League so that I can further develop my art skills, and attending these classes will give me more of a sense of what kind of art I am interested in, and how to pursue that in college.
I also am currently working on putting together my portfolio to apply to competitive art colleges and I think attending class here could give me the competitive edge I need. When I grow up, I definitely want to do something related to the arts. I have thought a lot about working in an art museum or institution or something education related.
I am eager to find a way to give back to a community of artists and help provide younger artists with the resources they need to be successful in the art world.
The artist that has influenced me the most would probably be Salvador Dali because I like to paint landscapes and things in nature, and I have always wanted to experiment more with surrealism similar to his style, and also I just like to look at a lot of what he does. One of my favorite things about painting would be to study color and color theory, and place certain colors in their works.
City-As-School High School – 2021
Seeds of the League Scholarship 2021
Maya Carino is a Brooklyn born, multi-disciplinary Latinx artist working to relocate to Mexico. While attending classes at the League Carino wrote, “This was one of the first artistic communities I truly felt a part of, and they all thoroughly influenced my work. I became friends with many of the students and art models.”
Carino’s work has been exhibited in Mexico, Europe, and across the United States,. Carino’s work draws inspiration from their Mexican roots. They had worked as an apprentice for ceramicist Simon Martines Lopez studying traditional clay folk art in Acatlan de Osorio, Mexico. Carino runs an Etsy shop, Mundx Maya, where they share their artistic practice and work and sells art from when they studied at the Art Students League.
High School of Art & Design Alum
Jack Kamen Scholarship 2013
In September 2021, a formerly incarcerated young man, Jaiquan Fayson, needed 20 hours of teaching observance to complete his college degree at the School of Visual Arts. Seeds of the League gave him the opportunity to not only observe but participate in the League’s atelier-style teaching. Below is his story.
As my mother has recounted to me several times about my earliest years of life, she took me to the circus to see a unicorn when I was maybe 2 or 3 years old and later that evening I had done a drawing of that unicorn which she felt was at least worth sharing with friends and family. I don’t remember that particular event, but I do feel a great sense of pride and identity about the thought of it.
Growing up in Brooklyn during the 1980s, I was fortunate enough to experience a wealth of popular and commerce-driven cartoons that have seen a revival in the form of blockbuster movies over the past few years.
Many of my Saturday mornings were spent eating bowls of no-frills cereal and milk and watching Thundercats, Transformers and/or G.I. Joe.
My mother would watch cartoons with us back then and well into her old age as a grandmother, she still watches and discusses cartoons and comic books with my siblings and I.
For a time in my life, for well over a decade, I would only draw whenever I found myself back in prison. I felt disillusioned about any hope of being a successful artist, but art had now become a form of therapy to help me maintain my sanity in prison. Overtime I worked hard to overcome those circumstances, obtaining my GED while in prison and eventually completing my BFA in Illustration at The School of Visual Arts.
Now, I am not only hoping to continue learning as an artist but also to begin learning how to teach, share and influence others who may have an opportunity to maintain and realize their dream of being an artist without having to experience the trauma of crime and or prison.
I’m working around the corner from a family shelter that I was in at 16 years old, so I have an opportunity to be with that population. So far, they want to keep me until February, and they say that I’m doing a good job. Either way, I’m invested and doing my best to help these kids while I can.
Being at the Art Students League even for that short amount of time was so important to me, so thank you for giving me that opportunity.
Click on the Learn More link below for the Drawing Freedom video.
School of Visual Art 2021
Seeds of the League Scholarship 2021
At the Art Students League Franco hoped to improve his abilities in painting from life by attending the five-night figure drawing course with Dan Thompson. Franco’s art was exhibited in the League’s fall Concours in the Phyllis Harriman-Mason Galleryin-and in the Seeds of the League exhibition at EMOA Gallery in Chelsea.
After graduating from the High School of Art and Design in 2014, Franco attended the Fashion Institute of Technology where he received his B.F.A in Illustration in 2018. Since then he has exhibited artwork across the country from NYC’s Chelsea, to Miami’s Art Basel, to California.
Through Franco’s highly detailed portraiture he attempts to capture the soul of his figures and subjects. Franco currently works as a tattoo artist for Eastside Ink.
High School of Art & Design Alum
Jack Kamen Scholarship 2013