US sculptor. Originally a sculptor in wax, Powers created many portrait busts of figures such as President Andrew Jackson and Chief Justice John Marshall. In 1843 he completed his life-size marble nude woman called The Greek Slave and it quickly became one of the best-known and most controversial statues of the century, praised by artists and writers but condemned by preachers and prudes. None of his subsequent works would ever gain the same attention, but his bronze statue of Daniel Webster was placed in front of the Massachusetts State House and his marble statues of Benjamin Franklin and Thomas Jefferson were placed in the US capital.
He was born in Woodstock, Vermont. He and his family settled in Cincinnati, Ohio, where, starting at age 17, he worked in a clock and organ factory. In 1829 he went to work for the Western Museum to install mechanisms in the displays for their ‘chamber of horrors’, but he discovered he had a talent for sculpting the wax figures and this led him to do portrait busts of Cincinnati worthies. He moved to Washington, DC, in 1834 and was soon making plaster portrait busts of leading figures. Wealthy patrons financed his move to Florence, Italy, in 1837, originally to improve his artistic skills, but he would stay there for the rest of his life, his home and studio eventually becoming a mecca for many prominent Americans.