1879 (Creston, Iowa)
New York/Connecticut/Iowa / France
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figure sculpture, commemorative
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San Francisco Panama-Pacific Exhibition 1915
|This biography from the Archives of AskART:|
|Sherry Edmundson Fry (1879–1966)|
An American sculptor, Sherry Edmundson Fry was born in Creston, Iowa, on September 29, 1879. After high school, he attended the Art Institute of Chicago, where he worked with sculptor Lorado Taft. He then studied in Paris at the Académie Julian and the Ecole des Beaux-Arts. He was also a student of Frederick MacMonnies, who himself had been a student of Augustus Saint-Gaudens.
Judging from books and articles on American sculpture in the decade prior to World War I, Fry was apparently thought to have been a promising young artist, in an era sometimes said to be “the golden age of sculpture.” Early in his career, he received prestigious awards, including honorable mention at the Paris Salon in 1906, as well as a medal in 1908; the Prix de Rome at the American Academy in 1908; a silver medal at the Panama-Pacific International Exposition in 1915; and a gold medal at the National Academy of Design in 1917.
As Fry’s reputation increased, so did his opportunities for commissioned sculpture, especially commemorative statues, fountains and reliefs. His earliest public commission was a bronze statue of Mahaska, the 19th-century leader of a Native American tribe called the Ioway. Recently restored, it still stands on its pedestal in the town square of Oskaloosa, the governmental seat of Mahaska County, Iowa, in the southeastern section of the state. At the right of the base is the artist’s signature “S.E. Fry, 1907.”
When he accepted the Mahaska commission in 1906, Fry was living in Paris. He returned to Iowa the following summer to make preparatory drawings of Meskwaki at the nearby Settlement at Tama, Iowa, and to collect Indian artifacts and other reference materials. Returning to Paris, he began on a clay scale model, which he premiered at the Paris Salon in 1907. A year later, he exhibited the final full-sized sculpture, for which he was awarded the Prix de Rome. Soon after, it was shipped to the U.S., and arrived in Oskaloosa by railroad in September. The formal dedication of the statue, which was attended by a crowd of about 12,000 people, was held on May 12, 1909.
Among Fry’s other public works are a pediment for the Frick Museum (New York), reliefs for the Grant Memorial (Washington, DC) based on sketches by Henry Merwin Shrady, the fountains at the Toledo Museum of Art (Toledo, Ohio), a statue of Ira Allen at the University of Vermont (Burlington), a memorial to Captain Thomas Abbey (Enfield, Connecticut), and a sculpture of Ceres, the goddess of grain, that stands on the peak of the Missouri State Capitol dome (Jefferson City, Missouri). In addition, a number of Fry’s allegorical sculptures were among the artworks featured at the Panama-Pacific International Exposition in San Francisco in 1915.
When the U.S. entered World War I in 1917, Fry (who was living in New York by then) saw a news photograph of camouflage created by artists serving in the French Army. He showed it to a friend, New Hampshire painter Barry Faulkner, who was a cousin of Abbott Handerson Thayer (the so-called “father of camouflage”), and a former student of the sculptor Augustus Saint-Gaudens.
By this time, both the French and the British had officially set up units of camouflage specialists called “camoufleurs,” many of whom were artists, architects and stage designers. Working together, Fry and Faulkner organized meetings with artists and government officials, in the hope of beginning an American camouflage unit.
Soon after, in 1917, the U.S. Army did set up an American Camouflage Corps (known officially as Company A of the 40th Engineers), and Fry and Faulkner were among the first four enlistees (the other two were Everett Herter and William Twigg-Smith). The officers who were put in charge of that unit were Homer Saint-Gaudens (son of the celebrated sculptor, and Faulkner’s college roommate while at Harvard) and Evarts Tracy, the New York architect who had co-designed the Missouri state capitol building, and would later hire Sherry Fry to create Ceres for the dome.
Before being shipped to France, the U.S. camouflage artists spent several months in training at a barracks near Washington, D.C. Fry was especially successful in improvising camouflage tricks, including rock-like foxhole lids (actually made of papier mache) and dummy guns. On November 15, 1917, a news story in the Evening Ledger-Philadelphia reported that Fry and his fellow camoufleurs had even hoodwinked President Woodrow Wilson in a demonstration at the camp. Fry, the story reported, “had organized a little camouflage entertainment to which at first a few of the generals of the barracks were invited. But when the word got around there came a score of requests for invitations from other generals and dignitaries, and atop of the heap was one which read: ’Why leave me out? [signed] Woodrow Wilson.’
The exhibition was in the open and the first thing Fry said was:
’Gentlemen, there's a man in uniform standing within five feet of you. Can you see him?’
They looked everywhere and couldn't see a man until Fry blew a whistle and,
well, the rock opened and a man in uniform arose at the President's elbow. The
President laughed like a boy and then said he had heard of a dummy three-inch gun we had made.
'Yes, Mr. President,’ said Fry 'we have the gun. It’s right here with us.’
They stared around and couldn’t see any gun until Fry again blew his whistle and a very natural screen of foliage parted and there was the gun.
The rubber bulb was handed the President and when he squeezed there was an explosion from the end of the dummy, painted to look like fine steel, that caused the President to jump, and secretaries and majors and brigadier generals and all the colonels jumped with him.”
There still exists a government news service photograph of President Wilson and his entourage standing beside the large papier mache rock, looking for the concealed soldier. In the group of invited observers is American John Singer Sargent, who had been at the White House that day, painting President Wilson’s portrait, and was invited to come along.
This camouflage unit set sail for Brest, France, on New Year’s Day 1918. A month later, Fry and Faulkner were sent to the front lines, where their primary responsibility was the camouflage of artillery positions. Years later, Faulkner recalled Fry’s and his war experiences in several radio talks and an autobiography. Sherry Fry, said Faulkner, “had little sense of fear and less of discipline.” He also “had an insatiable curiosity” and “resented taking orders.” He defied regulations and went out alone in abandoned trenches, looking for enemy helmets, belt buckles and other souvenirs. These forays became his chief preoccupation, Faulkner recalled, and before long he was transferred to Chantilly, where because he was fluent in French he became an American liaison to the French camouflage unit.
In the years following World War I, Fry did not succeed in becoming the prominent sculptor that, at one time, he seemed destined for. His work is rarely mentioned now, in part because he and other turn of the century sculptors began to look outdated in comparison to experiments in Cubism, Futurism, Dada and other forms of Modern Art.
During the later years of his life, he worked out of his studio in Roxbury, Connecticut, where he died on June 9, 1966.
Note: Because of his name, Fry has mistakenly been included in at least two encyclopedias of American women artists.
Anon (1917), “President Is Fooled by Novel Camouflage” in Evening Ledger-Philadelphia (November 15, 1917).
Behrens, Roy R. (1996), “Among the Dazzle Painters: Sherry Fry and the Invention of American Camouflage” in Tractor: Iowa Arts and Culture (Fall), pp. 26-28.
___ (1997), “Iowa’s Contribution to Camouflage” in Iowa Heritage Illustrated (Fall), pp. 98-109.
___ (2002), False Colors: Art, Design and Modern Camouflage. Dysart, Iowa: Bobolink Books. [A photograph of Fry’s camouflage demonstration for President Wilson is reproduced on p. 60.]
___ (2009), Camoupedia: A Compendium of Research on Art, Architecture and Camouflage. Dysart, Iowa: Bobolink Books.
Faulkner, Barry (1973), Sketches from an Artist’s Life. Dublin, New Hampshire: William Bauhan.
Fry, Sherry Edmundson (1917), “An American Corps for Camouflage” in American Architect Vol 112 (July 25), p. 68.
Rumrill, Alan F. and Carl B. Jacobs, Jr. (2007). Steps to Great Art: Barry Faulkner and the Art of the Muralist. Keene, New Hampshire: Historical Society of Cheshire County. [Includes a sound recording of Faulkner talking about World War I camouflage and other subjects.]
Based partly on Wikipedia biography, with additional new information provided by Roy R. Behrens.
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