Ivan Meštrović first considered going to the U.S. at the time of the 1911 International Exhibition in Rome, where his figures for the Kosovo Temple were shown in the Pavillion of the Kingdom of Serbia, causing a great deal of excitement in the art world. In later recollections, Meštrović did not indicate exactly who first suggested an exhibit in America, but it seems that the idea originated with some Americans Meštrović met in Rome. By the time World War I started, a number of Meštrović's works had been crated for shipment to the U.S. and it was only at the last moment that the plan had to be scuttled.
So it was only at the end of 1924 that Meštrović's first American exhibit opened at the Brooklyn Museum. At the time Meštrović was at the height of his artistic fame and popularity in Europe. The New York press coverage of the Brooklyn exhibit was extensive and enthusiastic as indicated by the article published in the now defunct Brooklyn Eagle. From New York the exhibit went on a U.S. tour, to Chicago Art Institute, to Los Angeles and elsewhere. Several museums purchased Meštrović s sculptures. The Brooklyn Museum acquired the white marble Angel Gabriel, the Chicago museum a marble carving of Meštrović's mother and a small bronze of Moses.
Meštrović also received a number of important portrait commissions, including that of Herbert Hoover, who was to become President. Meštrović also made a portrait of Hamilton Fish Armstrong, the longtime editor of Foreign Affairs, who was influential in U.S. foreign policy. Many years later, after Meštrović returned to America in 1947, he stubbornly refused contact with Armstrong insisting that the latter had asked him to make his bust, but had failed to pay for it. Characteristically Meštrović refused to remind Armstrong of the debt.
During Meštrović's first American stay, which lasted eight months, from December, 1924, througth the summer of 1925, he received the important commission for two equestrian Indians for Grant Park on Chicago's Michigan Avenue. The choice of the subject as well as the artistic treatment was left entirely to him. In payment he received $150,000, at a time when the dollar was worth far more than it is today and when he was not required to pay income taxes; the money came from the Ferguson Fund. Meštrović returned to Zagreb to make the Indians, which were also cast there in the Bubanj foundry, then disassembled, crated, shipped to America and reassembled in Chicago. Meštrović returned briefly to America in 1926 in connection with the Chicago statues.
Journal of Croatian Studies, XXIV, 1983, – Annual Review of the Croatian Academy of America, Inc. New York, N.Y., Electronic edition by Studia Croatica, by permission. All rights reserved by the Croatian Academy of America.