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 Haig Patigian  (1876 - 1950)

About: Haig Patigian
 

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Lived/Active: California / France      Known for: sculptor-portrait figure

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BIOGRAPHY for Haig Patigian
Facts/Data
Birth
1876 (Van, Armenia)
 
Death
1950 (San Francisco, California)

Lived/Active
California / France




Often Known For
sculptor-portrait figure

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Categories of Interest

San Francisco Panama-Pacific Exhibition 1915
California Painters
This biography from the Archives of AskART:
Haig Patigian is noted for his classical works, which are especially numerous in public venues in San Francisco, California. Patigian was born in Van, Armenia, which at that time was under Turkish rule. Haig was the son of Avedis and Marine Patigian, both teachers in the American Mission School there. He and his older brother showed an aptitude for art early on and were encouraged by their parents. Their father himself had taken up the new hobby of photography. The 1880s were harsh times, however, for many Armenians under an oppressive rule by the Turkish government. Many people were fleeing to the safety of the United States. Suspicious Turkish authorities accused his father of photographing city structures for the Russian government, and in 1888 he fled for his life to America.

Haigs father made his way to Fresno, California, and began life anew as a ranch hand. Within two years he sent for his wife, as well as Haig, his three sisters and brother, and in 1891 the Patigians made the journey from Armenia. Haigs father, an industrious man, worked on various farms, and eventually bought his own ranch and vineyard. It was among fertile farmland of Fresno that Haig grew up.

Young Haigs education consisted of teachings by his parents and by intermittent attendance in public schools. Although he had dreams of becoming an artist, he did not have the opportunity for formal study of art, and began working long days in the vineyards around Fresno.

At age seventeen, Haig made a step towards his dreams and apprenticed himself to learn the trade of sign painting. In his spare time he nurtured his interest in art by painting nature and life scenes with watercolors and oil paints. When his sign-painting mentor left Fresno, Haig opened his own shop and made a name for himself in the town. San Francisco, in the meantime, had been attracting artists since the Gold Rush and had become a thriving art center. Within a few years, Haig had put aside several hundred dollars to move to San Francisco, joining his brother who was already working there as an illustrator.

In 1899, when he was twenty-three, Haig had saved enough money to enroll at the Mark Hopkins Art Institute in San Francisco. Like many aspiring artists of his time, Patigian supported himself by working as a staff artist in the art department of a local newspaper, and in the winter of 1900, nearing his 24th birthday, Haig began work for the San Francisco Bulletin, producing cartoons, black and white illustrations, as well as watercolors.

In 1902 tragedy struck Haig and his family. His 29-year-old brother died of pneumonia, and then his frail mother died a short time later. Five months more saw his youngest sister, just out of high school, die too. Saddened and depressed, Haig moved out of the studio he had shared with his brother, and into a dilapidated studio in a poor section of town. During this time of sadness, Haig fed a growing interest in sculpture.

In 1904 Haig created what he later called his "first finished piece in sculpture". The work, called "The Unquiet Soul", depicted a man thrown back against a rock while waves lash at his feet. The body was tense and twisted, with one hand, in Haig's own words, "searchingly leaning and clutching the rock, while the other masks his troubled head".

The Press Club of San Francisco, which Haig had joined in 1901, put "The Unquiet Soul" on exhibition and local headlines proclaimed "Local Newspaper Artist Embraces Sculptor's Art", and "First Work Predicts Brilliant Future". With the support of friends and community acclaim, the young illustrator left his newspaper job and became a professional sculptor.

The path of his new career was not easy though. Haig had never made much money working for the newspaper and his father needed help with growing debt from funeral expenses and business problems. From time to time Haig sold some artwork, but also occasionally borrowed from friends to pay the rent. He was the classic 'starving artist'.

In the spring of 1905 a white-bearded 81-year-old stranger knocked on Haig's door. It was George Zehndner, from Arcata, California. Zehndner had been born in Bavaria, Germany in 1824, the son of a farmer. In 1849 he had come to America looking for prosperity, settling in Indiana, where he worked on a farm and learned English. He found his way to the West Coast in 1852. Penniless, he worked in various jobs from San Francisco to Sacramento, then found some luck working in the gold fields of Weaverville in Trinity County, and eventually moving to a farm on 188 acres near Arcata. In his 77th year in May of 1901, Zahndner had taken a trip to San Jose, where he stood in a crowd to see a man he thought much of, President William McKinley. McKinley was popular as 'the first modern president' partially because he realized going out to meet the common person increased his support. In September of that year, however, an anarchist assassinated the president while he stood in a receiving line at the Pan-American Exhibition in Buffalo, New York. Soon after, the city of San Jose erected a statue of the slain president in St. James Park. Zehndner took a second trip to San Jose where he visited the McKinley monument. Touched, Zehndner decided that, no matter the cost, his town of Arcata too would memorialize McKinley.

George Zehndner had read about Haig in a newspaper article and asked if Patigian would create a heroic statue of the late President McKinley for Arcata. When asked how much it would cost, Haig responded, despite his borderline poverty, with the fabulous sum of $15,000. Zehndner agreed. The President was to be portrayed standing, wearing an overcoat, with his feet planted squarely on the ground. In the finished statue, one hand is held out before him in a typical posture of speaking, with the other hand holding the speech as his side. The 9-foot statue's plaster cast was completed in January 1906. Zehndner arrived in San Francisco by steamboat to approve of the work. The next day Haig had the cast transported to a bronze foundry near the waterfront south of Market Street in San Francisco. McKinley was to be completed and shipped to Arcata and erected in time for an unveiling in May, 1906. Haig came to Arcata to supervise placement of the statue's granite base, which consisted of forty pieces of granite, altogether weighing twenty-six tons.

On Tuesday, April 17, 1906 Haig was back in San Francisco to supervise McKinley's voyage north to Arcata. At a quarter past five the next morning Haig was awakened from his bed by the rocking, twisting and tumbling of the Great San Francisco Earthquake. He walked through the destruction several miles to the foundry, and later wrote, "The first thing I noticed reaching this street was the great pile of City Hall, with its masonry shaken down into a confused mass of rubbish. The great dome was stripped bare of its architectural adornments and stones rose skyward in a skeleton of rusty structural steel. I continued my walk towards the waterfront, miles away. Here and there on either side of the street were the fearful marks of the quake. Some buildings seemed to be sliced in two by some gigantic ax in a superhuman hand, exposing the interior of the lodgings, offices, etc. As I walked along seeing these awful results of the earthquake my sense of value gradually became numbed, and somehow I felt less concerned about the fate of my statue." Upon reaching the foundry, he found the statue lying face-up on the foundry floor. The quake had knocked it down, but a large plaster model nearby braced its fall.

Much of the city was beginning to burn, with the city's water systems having been rendered inoperative. The statue was too big for him to move. He left it there, hoping city fires would not melt it. That night Haig slept on the lawn of a hospital across from his studio, but by morning fire was only two blocks away. He moved some of his sculpture casts onto the hospital lawn. The casts were consumed by the fire, along with the hospital and his studio and about 28,000 other buildings.

A week passed before Haig could venture into the devastated district. He met up with the foundry owner, who told him the foundry had succumbed to the blaze and the statue was destroyed. Saddened, Haig eventually made his way back to the foundry where he found a group of men standing in the center of the street. They were standing around none other than the blackened bronze William McKinley, lying prone in the roadway, with one hand held up to the sky. McKinley was sooty, but unharmed. Haig learned an employee of an adjoining machine shop had saved the statue. After the earthquake the man noticed the back of the foundry was burning. He and several passersby got a truck, managed to get McKinley onto it, and wheeled it out into the street. One of the good Samaritans had reportedly said, "Boys, it would be a shame to let McKinley melt, let's move it out." McKinley survived, but the truck was reduced to charred wood and its metal wheels.

Meanwhile, back in Arcata the earthquake had toppled nearly 30 chimneys, many windows were broken, and some telephones were put out of commission. Arcatans knew the San Francisco foundry was within the zone destroyed by fire, and when the steamship from there arrived without the statue, they assumed the worst. The Arcata Union newspaper ran the headline, "A Pedestal, But No Statue." Patigian wired a surprised Mr. Zehndner, however, with a message that he would arrive soon with McKinley. The Arcata Union broadcast the news with the headline, "Not Melted After All."

McKinley arrived in nearby Eureka by steamboat on May 1, 1906. A gathered crowd cheered as the statue was hoisted ashore. Two thousand people were present for the statue's grand unveiling on July 4th, more visitors than the town had ever seen. Houses and businesses were decorated in patriotic bunting. The Arcata Park Band and George Zehndner presented the statue to the people of Arcata. Zehndner said, "This is the happiest moment of my life. I am more than recompensed for the expense of the statue of our dear President, and for the great worry about its safe arrival and placement where we see it now." As for Haig Patigian, the commission from the city of Arcata had earned him public recognition, and countless commissions were to follow.

Following the 1906 destruction of San Francisco by the Great Quake, Patigian departed first to the East, and then to Paris where he spent the next two years studying and sculpting under Alix Marquet. He exhibited his classical work, Ancient History, at the Salon des Artistes Francais, and made a successful international debut.

Returning to San Francisco in 1908, Patigian opened on Webster Street a studio, which he maintained for the rest of his life, creating his works in the grand classical tradition. He married Blanche Hollister of Courtland, California, and they established a home on Francisco Street. Patigian also became an active member of several clubs that were supportive of his creativity. He served as President of the Bohemian Club for some years, and also maintained memberships in the Societe des Artistes Francais, the National Institute of Arts and Letters, the National Sculpture Society, and the California Historical Society, among others.

Haig Patigians greatest period of productivity took place between 1908 and World War II, and he had many opportunities for the creation of public sculpture. One commission was for the pediment over the entrance of what is now the Ritz Carlton Hotel, on Stockton Street in San Francisco, a building that at the time he created the triangular work was home to the Metropolitan Life Insurance Company. He also created works for the Panama-Pacific International Exposition in San Francisco, statues of James Rolph and Frederick Funston in City Hall, a seated Abraham Lincoln facing the Civic Center, John Pershing in Golden Gate Park, tennis star Helen Wills for the California Palace of the Legion of Honor, among countless private commissions in the city, throughout California, and across the country.

A well-beloved example of his work is located in the private garden of Elios and Virginia Anderlini, who built a home in 1941, on Telegraph Hill in San Francisco, at 400 Filbert and Montgomery, where they began renowned gardening efforts. Over the years they gifted their neighborhood with a glorious flowering garden and a dramatic magenta bougainvillea that adorns their Capri pink home. In the winter months when the roses have been pruned back, a golden sculpture titled Creation can be seen in the center of the garden. It is the studio model of Haig Patigian's thirty-five foot sculpture of four figures representing the four stages of life, which once stood at the end of the Avenue of Nations at the World's Fair on Treasure Island.

Patigian, having trained in the classic tradition of representational sculpture, had a distaste for the avant-garde and the abstract. His opposition to modernism alienated him from many of the major movements of his era, but his popularity, especially in San Francisco, was not diminished. He also opposed what he saw as a growing use of art for propaganda purposes and subversive social statement during the 1930s, and served at one time as president of the Society for Sanity in Art, an organization dedicated to opposing such use.

His last public contributions were in 1939-1940, when he created a number of statues for the Golden Gate International Exhibition. His creations are still enjoyed by many throughout the country, especially in San Francisco where sculpture walk tours continue to keep his name in the forefront.



This biography from the Archives of AskART:
Born in Van, Armenia on Jan. 22, 1876. At age 15 Patigian immigrated to Fresno, CA where he worked in the vineyards and as a sign painter. Opting for an art career, he moved to San Francisco in 1899 and enrolled at the Mark Hopkins Institute while supporting himself as an employee in the art department of the Bulletin. After the earthquake he spent 1906-07 in Paris where he received criticism from Alix Marquet and exhibited at the Paris Salon. Upon returning to San Francisco, he established a home and studio where he produced portrait busts, monuments, and architectural sculpture. He soon became one of the most famous sculptors on the West Coast. Patigian died in San Francisco at his home at 898 Francisco Street on Sept. 19, 1950. Member: Société des Artistes Français; Bohemian Club (pres. three terms); Press Club (SF) Family Club (SF); Nat'l Inst. of Arts & Letters; NSS; Society for Sanity in Art (pres.) Exh: SFAA, 1901-03; Salon des Artistes Français (Paris), 1906-07; Bohemian Club, 1909-22; PPIE, 1915 (member of Int'l Jury of Awards); CPLH, 1929; SFMA, 1935; GGIE, 1939; Society for Sanity in Art, 1940s. In: SF City Hall (General Funston & James Rolph bust); McKinley Monument (Arcata, CA); Bohemian Club; Rowell Monument (Fresno); Alden J. Blethen Memorial (Seattle); UC (John M. Eshleman bust); Metropolitan Life Bldg, SF (pediment); SF Olympic Club (Wm G. Harrison); Golden Gate Park (General Pershing); SF Civic Center (Abraham Lincoln); Washington Square (SF); De Young Museum (John Keith bust); SF Public Library (Dr. E. R. Taylor); CPLH (Helen Wills bust); White House, Washington, DC (Herbert Hoover bust).
Source:
Edan Hughes, "Artists in California, 1786-1940"
Art in California (R. L. Bernier, 1916); Contemporary American Sculpture; American Sculpture, Stover; Art of Treasure Island; Who's Who in America 1918; American Art Annual 1919-33; Who's Who in California 1928; Who's Who in American Art 1936-47; Who's Who in America 1950; SF Chronicle, 9-21-1950 and NY Times, 9-20-1950 (obits).
Nearly 20,000 biographies can be found in Artists in California 1786-1940 by Edan Hughes and is available for sale ($150). For a full book description and order information please click here.

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