Whither Our Founder’s Portrait
by Howland A. Fowler (CC: 1986-2006)
Published in Cosmos Bulletin, May 1993
Club members will have noticed that the portrait of Cosmos founder John Wesley Powell (1834-1902) now hangs over the East fireplace in the front lobby. Its former prominent location at the division of the center hall is being used for examples of work by the exhibiting artist featured in the New Members’ Dining Room.
The Powell portrait, done in watercolor and pastel, is dated 1891. Mr. Powell had become the second director of the United States Geological Survey in 1881, in the year when he was also President of the Cosmos Club. The portrait represents the mature, established leader of a senior federal agency.
The artist was Eleazar H. Miller (CC: 1893-99), who presented it to the Club in lieu of a year’s dues. (It should be remembered that in 1879 dues was set at $20 per annum. Hence, this represented quite a good deal for the Club.)
A far more relaxed view of Mr. Powell is seen in the 1873 photograph of him, near the door of the Billiard Room. There he is shown on horseback, with a Paiute Indian. The Indians named him “Kapurats,” meaning “Arm Off,” in honor of his right arm which had been shot off at Shiloh. This handicap did not deter Mr. Powell from his daring first descent of the Colorado River in 1869, accomplished by 10 men in four wooden boats.