Fraser, James Earle, 1876-1953Alternative names
Sculptors; Westport, Connecticut.
From the description of James Earle and Laura Gardin Fraser papers, 1913-1970. (Unknown). WorldCat record id: 122355085
James Earle Fraser was born on November 4, 1876, in Winona, Minnesota, the son of Thomas A. and Cora West Fraser. His father was a railroad engineer and contractor, and when James was less than a year old the family moved to the Dakota territory, where a railroad was pushing westward. During his childhood on the prairie outside Mitchell, South Dakota, when his family lived for a time in an old railroad boxcar, Fraser saw the Indians and frontiersmen whose figures would later appear in his sculpture.
At the age of fifteen, James Earle Fraser began his studies at the Art Institute of Chicago. At about the same time, he entered the studio of Richard Bock in Chicago as a working student. About two years later Fraser completed the first version of his most famous statue, the "End of the Trail." In 1896 Fraser went to Paris and enrolled in the Ecole des Beaux Arts. His prize-winning exhibit in the American Art Association Exhibition in Paris in 1898 brought him to the attention of the noted American sculptor, Augustus Saint-Gaudens, with whom he worked for two years, returning to the United States with Saint-Gaudens. Fraser continued to work under Saint-Gaudens for two more years before setting up his own studio in MacDougal Alley, Greenwich Village, New York.
A bas-relief portrait of a young child, Horatio Hathaway Brewster, which Fraser completed in about 1902, won favorable notice, and for several years Fraser enjoyed a substantial number of commissions, many of which were children's portraits. He also made several medals during this early period, including the Edison medal in 1906. Fraser did a number of portraits of adults including J. Eastman Chase, E.W. Deming, Warren Delano, E.H. Harriman, Louis Ledoux, Charles Dana Gibson, Morris K. Jessup, Pat Ford, Mr. and Mrs. John Jacob Albright, Dr. William Polk and M.H. Schoelkopf. He also completed several small titled pieces, including "Grief," "Dancer," "Young Artist," and "Priscilla." His most important early commission was for a marble bust of Theodore Roosevelt for the Senate Chamber, begun in 1906. From this followed other work for public figures, including a bust of Elihu Root and the William Howard Taft Memorial. Fraser designed the John Hay Memorial; a cemetery piece called "Journey Through Life;" "Cheyenne Warrior" and a seated Thomas Jefferson, both for the Saint Louis World's Fair in 1904; and the Bishop Potter sarcophagus in Saint John the Divine Cathedral in New York City. In 1913 Fraser won the competition for a new United States five-cent piece; his design was the now-famous Buffalo nickel.
Fraser taught sculpture at the Art Students League in New York City from 1907 to 1911. He was married to Laura Gardin, who had been one of his students, in November 1913, and the Frasers soon built a new and larger studio in Westport, Connecticut. James Earle and Laura Gardin Fraser were close friends of the poet Edwin Arlington Robinson. Robinson was a frequent visitor to their home for months at a time during the seasons when he took a respite from writing. A special room in their house was kept as his, and the Frasers provided for him a measure of friendship in his otherwise solitary bachelor existence until his death in 1935.
In 1915 a large stucco model of Fraser's "End of the Trail" was placed in the Court of Palms of the Panama-Pacific International Exposition in San Francisco. There thousands of tourists made it a favored attraction of the Exposition. The piece was to become one of the most well-known works of American sculpture, although Fraser's name did not receive corresponding fame.
James Earle Fraser's first important public work, commissioned in 1917, was the statue of Alexander Hamilton for the Treasury Building in Washington, D.C. From that time on, he was almost never without a public commission in his studio. In the 1920's he completed two pylons, "Discoverers" and "Pioneers," for the Michigan Avenue Bridge in Chicago; four symbolic figures for the Elks Club National Memorial in Chicago; figures of Thomas Jefferson, Meriwether Lewis and William Clark for a Jefferson Memorial in Missouri; the John Ericsson Memorial in Washington, D.C. and a seated figure of Lincoln in Jersey City, N.J. He also completed two commissions for the Bank of Montreal, the "Victory" in Montreal and the "Canadian Officer" in Winnipeg. He designed the Taft Memorial and the Robert Lincoln sarcophagus, and completed a bust of Augustus Saint-Gaudens and a statue called "Primitive Inventor of Water Power" for Niagara Falls, N.Y.
In the 1930's Fraser continued to complete commission work. He designed pediments for the Archives and Commerce buildings in Washington, D.C., and two large figures to be placed in front of the U.S. Supreme Court. He completed a "Second Division Memorial," and large, seated-figure portraits of Benjamin Franklin and Thomas Edison, as well as a huge 65-ft. statue of George Washington for the 1939 New York World's Fair. In 1940 he finished the New York State Memorial to Theodore Roosevelt, which consisted of an equestrian figure of Roosevelt accompanied by figures of Daniel Boone, John James Audubon, Meriwether Lewis and George Rogers Clark.
During his career, Fraser completed numerous medals and medallions including the Navy Cross, the American Institute of Graphic Arts medal, the Yale University Howland Memorial medal, and the Gold Medal of the American Academy of Arts and Letters. World War II brought shortages of casting materials which held up several of Fraser's major projects, including the Albert Gallatin statue for the Treasury Building in Washington, D.C.; the Mayo Brothers Memorial; the Harvey Fireston Memorial, and the two giant groups for the Arlington Memorial Bridge in Washington, D.C.
After the war, although in increasing ill health, Fraser completed a few more works, among them two statues of General George S. Patton Jr., and another seated Franklin. At the time of James Earle Fraser's death, on October 11, 1953, three of his important pieces remained unfinished: a design for a Washington equestrian for the National Cathedral in Washington, D.C.; the "Buffalo Herd;" and the Reverend F. Ward Denys sarcophagus.
Laura Gardin was born on September 14, 1889, the daughter of John E. and Alice Tilton Gardin. She attended the Horace Mann School in New York and studied sculpture at the Art Students League, where her instructor was James Earle Fraser. After their marriage in 1913, she continued to work as a sculptor.
Her early works were mostly of small size, and babies and animals, especially horses and dogs, were her favorite subjects. Later she turned to work on a larger scale, and completed the reclining elks in front of the Elks Club National Memorial, for the horse's owner, Joseph Widener.
She designed a large number of medals, including the Lindbergh, George C. Marshall, and Benjamin Franklin Congressional Medals of Honor, and the U.S. Army and Navy Chaplains medal, as well as medals for the National Geographic Society, the American Bar Association, the National Sculpture Society and many others. In 1936 Laura Fraser won an invitational competition for a double equestrian statue of Robert E. Lee and "Stonewall" Jackson to be placed in Baltimore, Md. Twelve years were required to complete that work. She also completed a "Pegasus" for Brookgreen Gardens in South Carolina, a twenty-foot relief entitled "Oklahoma Run," busts of Gilbert Stuart and Mary Lyon, and three large relief panels depicting American history which were placed in the West Point Library.
Laura Gardin Fraser died on August 13, 1966. The Frasers had no children.
From the guide to the James Earle and Laura Gardin Fraser Papers, 1872-1967, 1900-1955, (Special Collections Research Center, Syracuse University Libraries)
- Art, American
- History in art
- Art, American--20th century
- Poets, American--20th century
- Bronze sculpture, American
- Sculpture, Modern--20th century
- Equestrian statues
- Sculpture, Modern--20th century--History
- Sculptors--United States
- Women sculptors--United States
- Women artists--United States
- Portrait sculpture
- Medalists, United States
- Coin designers
- Portrait medallions
- Coin design
- Sculpture, American
- Connecticut--Westport (as recorded)