John Rogers had a keen sense of humor, which was fanned by fair-goers’ excitement at seeing an artist at work and customers buying the artist’s finished pieces.
No package or wrapping was used on purchased items in those early days, so his finished work was seen by many buyers. Rogers was trained as an engineer and probably having fun as he visited with people who watched him work on entirely different items at the fair. His clay work started with rough "drawings" in three dimensions.
Each piece of John Rogers’ work bore a short statement - sometimes humorous, sometimes sad, always fitting to the mood of the item he was creating in wood or moist clay. Buyer approval was important to him, and he loved the people who bought the work he was selling at the world’s fair.
Rogers was at the crossroads of his career, and he knew it. Failing eyesight was making engineering more difficult, and he would be forced to change careers. Sculpting was his salvation. It was often said by members of the Lincoln family that the sculpture that he did of Abraham Lincoln was "the best likeness of him that was ever made." John Rogers’ sculptures, especially the one he called "The Slave Auction," attained great popularity during and by the end of the Civil War.
Many months ago, I was cleaning family treasures, including a John Rogers sculpture that was passed down through my husband’s family called "Forced Prayer." It is an 11-inch-tall plaster casting of a child with his hands folded in prayer. For years it had been displayed on an elaborate wooden hanging shelf that was not part of the original purchase of the sculpture. On the bottom of the figure there is a price, written in pencil, of $1.
In spite of its low original cost, it was a prized possession of the Gerard family. Knowing this, I copied both the sculpture and the shelf. Chub and I presented them to his sisters as a gift. It is hard to believe that this John Rogers treasure cost only $1 at the world’s fair!