Louis Amateis’s legacy was chiseled from granite and cast in bronze.
Luigi, as his friends knew him, designed three of Galveston’s most enduring statues, one of which, “The Heroes of the Texas Revolution,” is the island’s most prominent landmark, prominent both in content — memorializing the founders of the Lone Star republic — and, at a towering 74 feet, in physical stature.
Amateis, like many of America’s earliest master sculptors, was born in Italy, in his case in Turin, on Dec. 13, 1855, to Carolina and Paolo Amateis, the latter a general in his nation’s army and as such likely the inspiration for his son’s later output.
Luigi early on was recognized as a prodigy and granted admission to his hometown’s Institute of Technology, where he studied architecture, and then to the nearby Royal Academy of Fine Arts, where he was schooled in sculpture.
After furthering his education in Milan and then in Paris, he, like so many ambitious young Europeans, moved, in 1883, to the United States.
It was there in New York that he found work availing him of his twinned curricula, hiring on as an architectural sculptor with the famed firm of McKim, Mead and White.
There, too, Amateis met his wife, Dora, nee Ballin, whom he married in 1889 before making his way to the nation’s capital, from which word of his prodigious talent spread across America, eventually catching the attention of Galveston’s greatest philanthropist, the Swiss-born émigré Henry Rosenberg.
Rosenberg before the Civil War had arrived in Galveston at the tender age of 19 and, gifted in his own right, went on to earn his fortune as a dry goods merchant and banker. He held, at one time or another, virtually every civic and political post there was, serving as an alderman and as a director of the wharf company and of the Galveston Orphans Home, which he quietly funded, and as his homeland’s consul on the island.
Rosenberg, before his death in 1893, bequeathed his sizable fortune, setting aside $40,000 — in a day when $40,000 was big money — for public schools; $400,000 to create Galveston’s first public library, which today bears his name and, too, is home to the Texas and Galveston History Center; and funded countless other bequests, including $50,000 for the monument to “The Heroes.”
Before that work was even erected — let alone dedicated, a ceremony that occurred on April 22, 1900, 74 years and a day after Texas secured its independence with its lightning victory at San Jacinto — the grand sculpture had caught the attention of The New York Times.
“The monument, which is constructed of grey granite from the celebrated quarries at Concord, N.H., stands 74 feet in height. It is composed of four columns, each weighing twelve tons, said to be the largest single columns ever used in a work of this character,” the Times reported on June 4, 1899, under the headline: Monument Being Erected at Galveston to Commemorate the Wresting of the State from Mexico. “Surrounding these columns is a capstone upon which is inscribed the words, PATRIOTISM, HONOR, DEVOTION, COURAGE. On this capstone there will be placed a bronze figure twenty feet high, emblematic of Texas crowning the heroes of the revolution, with a wreath of laurel.”
Amateis’ political leanings are uncertain, although he later accepted several commissions to design monuments to the losers of the Civil War, most notably one in Sam Houston Park in the city named for the hero of San Jacinto and who had rejected the Confederacy.
That sculpture, “The Spirit of the Confederacy” was dedicated in 1908 and depicts an angel bearing, ambiguously enough, a sword and a palm branch, symbols respectively of war and peace, the former of which the ill-fated Confederacy brought to the nation, the latter of which the Union restored only through four years of bloodshed.
Amateis also designed “Dignified Resignation,” which resides in Galveston and depicts a Confederate in defeat, a sword in his right hand, its blade snapped off, and a furled rebel flag clutched in his left. It was dedicated in 1911 on what would have been the traitorous Jefferson Davis’ 103rd birthday.
Moreover, Amateis fashioned the monument that stands over the Galveston grave of the doubly traitorous Gen. John Bankhead Magruder, a Union officer who threw his lot in with the Confederacy and later with the illegitimate Mexican emperor Maximillian I, until the latter was executed in 1867.
Amateis also, to his credit, immortalized in bronze the sainted Rosenberg, who thus has sat since 1906 on the south end of the library he founded and funded into perpetuity.
Despite Amateis’ impact on Galveston, there is no evidence that he ever set foot on the island. He died on March 16, 1913, and was buried in Suitland, Md., where he had long maintained a studio.
Six months later, Dora, despondent over the loss of her husband, committed suicide and was buried beside him.
The great artist, the sculptor of magnificent monuments, lies today at the foot of a simple granite marker, thigh-high, bearing nothing more than his surname.