Jerome Connor was born in Coumduff, Annascaul, Co Kerry. In 1888, he emigrated to Holyoke, Massachusetts. His father was a stonemason, which led to Connor’s jobs in New York as a sign painter, stonecutter, bronze founder and machinist. Inspired by his father’s work and his own experience, Connor used to steal his father’s chisels as a child and carve figures into rocks.
It is believed he may have assisted in the manufacture of bronzes such as the Civil War monument in Town Green in South Hadley, Massachusetts erected in 1896 and The Court of Neptune Fountain at the Library of Congress in Washington D.C., completed in 1898.
He joined the Roycroft arts community, in 1899 where he assisted with blacksmithing and later started creating terracotta busts and reliefs and eventually, he was recognised as Roycroft’s sculptor-in-residence.
One of the most ambitious works he created was The Marriage of Art and Industry. Connor is reported to have dedicated the better part of a year on the monument’s construction. With new ideas came additions, improvements, and increased weight. Connor worked on the upper floor of an old barn, and one evening, as Roycrofters and visitors relaxed on the peristyle of the Roycroft Inn, a thunderous crash was heard from Connor’s studio. The beams under the second floor had given way, and Connor’s Marriage fell to pieces. Fortunately, no one was hurt.
After four years at Roycroft, he then worked with Gustav Stickley and became
well-known as a sculptor being commissioned to create civic commissions in bronze for placement in Washington, D.C., Syracuse, East Aurora, New York, San Francisco, and in his native Ireland. In 1910, he established his own studio in Washington, D.C. From 1902 until his death, Connor produced scores of designs ranging from small portrait heads to relief panels to large civic commissions realised in bronze.
Connor was a self-taught artist who was highly regarded in the United States where most of his public works can be seen. It was felt he was heavily influenced by the work of Irish American sculptor Augustus Saint Gaudens. He used the human figure to give expression to emotions, values and ideals. Many of the commissions he received were for civic memorials and secular figures which he cast in bronze, a pronounced departure from the Irish tradition of stone carved, church sponsored works
Connor is a recognised world-class sculptor and his best known work is Nuns of the Battlefield located at the intersection of Rhode Island Ave NW, M St & Connecticut Ave NW in Washington, D.C., United States.Nuns of the Battlefield was surveyed in 1993 by the Smithsonian for their Save Outdoor Sculpture! program. It serves as a tribute to the over six hundreds nuns who nursed soldiers of both armies during the Civil War, and is one of two monuments in the District that represent women’s roles in the American Civil War. The sculpture was authorised by Congress on 29 March 1918 with the agreement that the government would not fund it. The Ancient Order of Hibernians, raised $50,000 for the project. Jerome Connor was chosen since he focused on Irish Catholic themes, being one himself, but he ended up suing the Order for nonpayment.
He worked in the United States until 1925 and moved to Dublin where he opened his own studio, but, lack of financial support and patrons caused his work to slow. In 1926 he was contacted by Roycroft and asked to design and cast a statue of Elbert Hubbard who, with his wife Alice, had died in the sinking of the RMS Lusitania. It was unveiled in 1930 and today it stands on the lawn of East Aurora’s Middle School across the street from the Roycroft Chapel building.
While working on the Hubbard statue, Connor received a commission to create a memorial for all the Lusitania victims. It was to be erected in Cobh, Co Cork where many of the victims were buried. The project was initiated by the New York Memorial Committee, headed by William H. Vanderbilt whose father Alfred Gwynne Vanderbilt, like Elbert and Alice Hubbard, perished on the Lusitania. Connor died before the Lusitania memorial was completed and based on Connor’s design its installation fell to another Irish artist.
Throughout his career, Connor was also known as Patrick Jeremias Connor, Jerome Conner, Jerome Stanley Connor, J. Stanley Connor, and “St. Jerome” Connor.
He died on 21 August 1943 of heart failure and reputably in poverty. There is a now a “Jerome Connor Place” in Dublin and around the corner there is a plaque in his honour on Infirmary Road, overlooking Dublin’s Phoenix Park (his favourite place) with the words of his friend the poet Patrick Kavanagh:
He sits in a corner of my memory
With his short pipe, holding it by the bowl,
And his sharp eye and his knotty fingers
And his laughing soul
Shining through the gaps of his crusty wall.
Image | Portrait of Jerome Connor