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James Earle Fraser

 (1876 - 1953)
James Earle Fraser was active/lived in New York, New Hampshire, Connecticut, Minnesota.  James Fraser is known for Indian figure sculpture, coin design.

James Earle Fraser

Biography from the Archives of askART

Biography photo for James Earle Fraser
Having spent his childhood in the West, James Earle Fraser became one of the more famous American sculptors of cowboys, Indians, and horses.  He also designed the Buffalo Nickel, which "has been called the first uniquely American coin." (Reynolds, 189).  From 1920 to 1925, he served on the National Arts Commission, and played a key role in promoting American subject matter in public art.  In 1919, he received the Saltus Medal*, the most prestigious medallic art award.

He attended public school in Minneapolis, but lived much of the time in a railway car crossing through the Dakotas because his father was in charge of laying railroad track across the western plains.

At age 18, with obvious art talent, he began studies at the Art Institute of Chicago* and there studied sculpture with Richard Bock.  By age 20, he was a student in Paris at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts* and also studied at the Julian* and Colarossi Academies*.

At age 22, he became an assistant in New York City to Augustus Saint- Gaudens before opening his own studio in New York.  He "was probably Saint-Gauden's favorite assistant." (Reynolds, 189).

Fraser's first important commission was a bust of Theodore Roosevelt in 1908.  In 1913, he designed the U.S. "Buffalo Nickel, using three different Indians to get the single portrait.  The bison on the reverse side was modeled after Black Diamond, a buffalo at the New York Zoo, and the Indian was modeled from three different persons whom Fraser knew: Chief Iron Trail, John Big Tree, and Two Moons.

Two years later he completed his most memorable work, The End of the Trail, a dejected Indian sitting on a horse.  Cast at the Roman Bronze Works*, it was originally modeled in 1894.   The Seneca Chief John Big Tree was the model for the figure, which symbolizes the fate of the American Indians.  A small version was exhibited at the Paris Salon* of 1898 where it won the American Artists Association John Wanamaker Prize.  The 18-foot sculpture was exhibited at the Panama-Pacific Exposition* in San Francisco in 1915.  The original 18 foot plaster version was acquired in 1968 and restored by the National Cowboy Hall of Fame in Oklahoma City.

Fraser was married to Laura Gardin, also an accomplished sculptor.

Alma Gilbert, The Cornish Colony
Donald Reynolds, Masters of American Sculpture
Peggy and Harold Samuels, An Illustrated Encyclopedia of Artists of the American West

* For more in-depth information about these terms and others, see Glossary


Biography from Altermann Galleries and Auctioneers, II
Biography photo for James Earle Fraser
In public school in Minneapolis, James Earle Fraser carved blackboard chalk when that was the only available medium.  His father was a railroad engineer in charge of laying track across the Western plains.  Their home was a railway car, and Fraser was in the Dakotas as a boy, familiar with Indians and buffalo bones.

At 18, Fraser went to the Art Institute of Chicago for drawing classes and was the pupil of Richard Bock for sculpture.  At 20, he entered the Ecole des Beaux-Arts in Paris under Alexandre Falguiere, the Julian Academy, and Colarossi.  At 22, he became assistant to the major sculptor Augustus Saint-Gaudens, remaining until 1902 when Fraser opened his own studio in New York City.

His first important commission was a bust of Theodore Roosevelt now in the United States Capitol.  In 1913, Fraser married his former student, Laura Gardin, who was an accomplished sculptor in her own right.

Fraser designed the five-cent "buffalo nickel" that was issued in 1913.  He used three different Indians to obtain the portrait.  One was the Sioux chief Iron-Tail. The bison on the reverse was modeled after Black Diamond in the New York Zoo, slaughtered in 1915 and mounted.  Fraser made the figure full, intending no inscription, so there was no room for "In God We Trust."  His statue The End of the Trail was the most popular work at the Panama-Pacific Exposition at San Francisco in 1915.  There were more requests for purchase of this design than any other work.  It was also issued in various usual bronze sizes, and has been reissued by Modern Art Foundry.

In 1968, the Cowboy Hall of Fame acquired and restored the original 16' plaster of The End of the Trail.

Peggy and Harold Samuels,  An Illustrated Encyclopedia of Artists of the American West, 1985, Castle Publishing

** If you discover credit omissions or have additional information to add, please let us know at

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About  James Earle Fraser

Born:  1876 - Winona, Minnesota
Died:   1953 - Westport, Connecticut
Known for:  Indian figure sculpture, coin design