Coppini was a sculptor in Texas who created many memorable works, including notable statues on several Texas universities and the familiar Alamo Cenotaph just outside the Alamo in San Antonio.
Coppini was born in 1870 in Italy. As a youth, he created items for sale when he was just 10 years old. After graduating from the Accademia delle Arti del Disegno, he worked in Italy until he emigrated to the United States in 1896. Coppini remained in New York City for a number of years, married and became a naturalized United States citizen in 1902, following his move to Texas one year earlier.
In Texas he worked with artist Frank Teich for a while and received a commission to create the Confederate memorial on the Capitol grounds in Austin. This began several decades of sculptures all around the state and some of them are listed below:
Confederate Monument, Texas State Capitol, Austin, Texas.
The Spirit of the Texas Cowboy, Ballinger, Texas.
Rufus C. Burleson, Baylor University, Waco, Texas.
Judge R. E. B. Baylor, Baylor University, Waco, Texas.
George Washington, University of Texas at Austin.
Monument to Terry’s Texas Rangers, Texas State Capitol, Austin, Texas.
Hood’s Texas Brigade Monument, Texas State Capitol, Austin.
Sam Houston Grave Monument, Huntsville, Texas.
Confederate Monument, Victoria, Texas.
Lawrence Sullivan Ross, Texas A&M University, College Station, Texas.
Littlefield Memorial Fountain, University of Texas at Austin.
Bronze doors, Scottish Rite Cathedral (Masonic), San Antonio, Texas.
Cenotaph to the Heroes of the Alamo, Alamo Plaza, San Antonio, Texas.
Coppini Tomb, Sunset Memorial Park, San Antonio, Texas.
The Victims of the Galveston Flood, University of Texas at Austin.
Come and Take It Monument, Gonzales, Texas.
Coppini’s creations are mostly all still standing and can be easily located around the state, though some pertaining to Civil War figures have recently been relocated under political pressure. Another of his works, the sculpture commemorating the 1900 Galveston hurricane and flood (pictured below), has vanished and has been missing now for almost 100 years. One Mattie Gallagher posed for the figure of the woman and her younger sister Besse posed as the little girl. A relative of Mattie Gallagher is involved in the search for the sculpture.
(Image credit: Baylor University)
The beautiful work commemorating the hurricane victims pictured above was donated to University of Texas at Austin in 1914, along with some other works, but has been subsequently lost or otherwise misplaced. Per several newspaper articles in 2016, one of which is linked here, a search is underway to locate it.
One of the university works is the statue of Lawrence Sullivan Ross, commemorating him as having been the first President of Texas A&M University. There were two student traditions pertaining to the statue, nicknamed “Old Sully.” One was to rub the nose of the statue for good luck. This had to be discouraged after the nose showed obvious wear from continual contact. Another tradition still in effect is for students to place pennies on the bottom of the statue for good luck. During his tenure at Texas A&M, Ross is reported to have volunteered to help students with their studies. Ross refused to accept compensation, but as the students would leave, he would reply by saying, “A penny for your thoughts.” Students now leave pennies and other memorabilia and any proceeds are accumulated and donated to charity.
Another university statue is that of a former Baylor University president, Rufus C. Burleson. Coppini worked on the statue following Burleson’s death in 1901. In the late summer of 1903, the artist invited Burleson’s widow, university president Pat Neff and several others to inspect the statue before it was installed. The artist had created the work based on a small portrait of Burleson, the only image available to him. In his memoirs, Coppini related that he needed a subject to pose for it and settled for a person off the street to stand in as Burleson. Ironically, the model was described in Coppini’s biography as having been an alcohol abuser, whereas Burleson himself was a teetotaler. Coppini added that the family had wanted Burleson to be seen holding a Bible and that his model seemed more calm and happy while standing holding the book. He also said that Burleson’s widow became visibly upset and left the room during the viewing. Coppini had had feared that she did not like the work. However, once Mrs. Burleson composed herself, she told the artist that the sculpture was so lifelike that she was deeply moved by it.
Coppini lived to be 87 years old. He passed away in 1957 after having designed his own crypt, also listed above. The artist and his widow are interred in Sunset Memorial Park in San Antonio.
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