Thursday, January 28, 2010

James Earl Fraser - Michigan Avenue Bridge

James Earl Fraser died on October 11, 1953, at the age of 76 in Westport, Connecticut.  Born in Winona, Minnesota and raised on the plains of the West, he had become one of America's most noted sculptors. His father was an engineer in charge of building railroads and moved to the Dakota Territory when James Earl was only 4 years old.  At the age of 8, he was carving things out of stone from a nearby quarry and at the age of 15 was sent to the Art Institute in Chicago to study.

Before he was 17 a model of one of his most celebrated works was completed.  His "End of the Trail" statue showing a weary Indian slumped down over his rack-ribbed horse has been copied around the world.  The original eighteen-foot statue, was given to Visalia, California.  It is often regarded as the best known sculpture in America.

In 1895, James Earl Fraser won a scholarship to study in Paris.  It was here that he attracted the attention of August Saint-Gaudens with whom he began to work.  In Chicago, Saint-Gaudens is best known for his statutes of Abraham Lincoln and the John Logan Memorial at Michigan Avenue and 6th street.

On the north pylons of the Michigan Avenue bridge across the Chicago river is the large limestone depiction of The Pioneers and The Discoverers by James Earl Fraser.  Other works by Fraser include the statue of Theodore Roosevelt as a Rough Rider in front of the American Museum of Natural History in New York City. His statue of Alexander Hamilton for the Department of the Treasury in Washington is regarded as one of the best works of those practicing in the Saint-Gaudens tradition.  In 1913, James Earl Fraser designed the Indian Head and Buffalo nickel.

At his death in 1953, he was survived by his wife of forty years, Laura Gardin Fraser.  She was a native of Chicago and a sculptor as well.  She is best known for her commemorative medals, which often featured animals.  Some of her work is preserved at the Elks National Memorial and Headquarters building, 2750 North Lake View Av. at Diversey Parkway.  Two life-size bronze figures, Reclining Elks, which flank the entrance steps are the works of Laura Gardin Fraser.  Inside the rotunda are four heroic-sized statues executed by her husband.

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