Patience Lovell was born in New Jersey in 1725 to a strict Quaker family. She ran away to Philadelphia at age 20, later marrying Joseph Wright.
Widowed by age 44, Patience, with the help of her sister Rachel, turned her hobby of sculpting faces out of bread dough and putty into a thriving business sculpting busts of important people, using tinted wax as the medium. The sisters apparently set up a business with Rachel headquartered in Philadelphia and Patience in New York. During the winter, they moved to Charleston, South Carolina, because the warmer climate helped the wax remain pliable.
Thus, she became one of the first American sculptors and is recognized as the first professional American wax modeler.
In 1771, a fire at her New York studio, melted many of her works. Her friendship with Jane Franklin Mecom led to an introduction to Jane’s brother, Benjamin, when Patience went to England. Benjamin Franklin introduced her to English nobility, and she received many commissions for busts. It is said Patience delighted in shocking people and scandalized the British by addressing the King and Queen as “George” and “Charlotte.” She fell out of favor with the royals during the American Revolution due to her fervent support of the colonies.
She still continued to receive commissions from the nobility, however, and legend has it that she listened as she sculpted and heard much information concerning British war plans. She purportedly secreted this information in busts that she shipped to the colonies. Apparently the British did not suspect her of spying.
Toward the end of the Revolution, she apparently became involved in a plot to overthrow the King. However, the plotters lacked the financial resources to pull it off and had to abandon the plan.