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 Laura Gardin Fraser  (1889 - 1966)

About: Laura Gardin Fraser
 

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Lived/Active: Connecticut/New York/Illinois      Known for: sculptor-medalist/medallion

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Laura Gardin Fraser
from Auction House Records.
George Washington
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This biography from the Archives of AskART:
Laura Gardin Fraser was a sculptor of medals, fountains, and monumental commemorative works.  Because of her skill combined with the fact that she was a woman working in a medium dominated by men, she became noteworthy for several reasons.

She was the first woman to design a coin for the United States Treasury, a commission she won in 1921 with her design for the Alabama Centennial Commemorative half-dollar.  In 1926, she was also the first woman to win the Saltus Medal* of the American Numismatic Society, the highest award for medal artistry in the United States.  She created, among others, the American Numismatic Society Centenary Medal, American Geographic Society Morse Medal, and George Washington Bicentennial Medal.

Fraser was born in Chicago, Illinois in 1889.  Her mother, Alice Tilton Gardin, was a well-known painter, and her father, John Gardin, was a banker.  In 1913, two years after study at the Art Students League* in New York City from 1907 to 1911, Fraser married James Earle Fraser (1876-1953), a sculptor and her instructor there.  While at the League, she won the Saint-Gaudens Medal in her first year, a scholarship in her second, and the Saint-Gaudens figure prize in her last year.  During World War I, she interrupted her career to serve as a captain in the Ambulance Service.

Following their marriage, the Fraser's purchased a colonial-era house in Westport, Connecticut and later built a large studio for the use of both of them.  James Earle Fraser was a highly recognized sculptor in his own right.  In 1894, when seventeen years old, Fraser created End of the Trail, one of the most famous sculptures of its day, which won the $1,000 award of the American Art Association in Paris.  By 1900, he was an assistant to famous sculptor Augustus Saint Gaudens.  Fraser designed the ubiquitous Indian Head/Buffalo nickel in 1913, using three different Indians as models.  He also designed the heroic equestrian groups on the Arlington Memorial Bridge Plaza in Washington, D.C., the famous Navy Cross, and the marble statue of Benjamin Franklin in Philadelphia.

Interestingly, the only project on which the wife-husband sculptors collaborated was the Oregon Trail Memorial Half Dollar in 1926.

Laura Gardin Fraser was a member of the National Sculpture Society* (1912), National Academy of Design*, and National Institute of Arts and Letters*, New York City.

Some of her awards and prizes include:

1915 National Arts Club Medal of Honor
1916 National Academy of Design, Helen Foster Barnett prize
1919 National Academy of Design, Julia Shaw Memorial
1924 National Academy of Design, Saltus Gold Medal
1927 National Academy of Design, Saltus Gold Medal
1929 National Association of Women Painters and Sculptors, Agar Prize
1931 National Academy of Design, Watrous Gold Medal

Laura Gardin Fraser's medal and coin designs include the Grant Memorial fifty cent piece and gold dollar (1922); Admiral Byrd Medal for the National Geographic Society; Fort Vancouver Centennial Commemorative fifty cent piece (1925); Charles Lindbergh Congressional Medal (1928); Gen. George C. Marshall Congressional Medal (1946); one peso and fifty centavos General MacArthur models for new Philippine coins; Massachusetts Tercentenary Medal; American Geographical Medal; and Dr. Walcott Smithsonian Institution Medal.

Monuments sculpted by Laura Gardin Fraser include a white granite figure of Pegasus at Brookgreen Gardens, South Carolina; three relief panels depicting the history of the United States at the library entrance at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, New York; the double equestrian statue of Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson in Wyman Park, Baltimore, Maryland; and the Theodore Roosevelt Bridge Reliefs of Power, Foresight, Courage, and Leadership, Washington, D.C. Her work may also be found in the collection of the Corcoran Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.

A film was made in 1929 of Laura Gardin Fraser working on a medal, and her life and sculpture are documented in the following books:

Animals in Bronze by Christopher Payne (1986)
American Sculpture by The Metropolitan Museum of Art (1965)
Dictionary of American Sculptors by Glenn Opitz
American Women Sculptors by Charlotte Rubinstein (1990)
Masters of American Sculpture by Donald M. Reynolds

Laura Gardin Fraser died on August 13, 1966 in Westport, Connecticut.

The Frasers, husband and wife, were memorialized in a projected replication of their studio by the National Cowboy and Western Heritage Museum, Oklahoma City, which, in 1968, acquired the artists' monumental plaster statues, plaster models of medals and coins, studio furniture, filing cabinets, tools, and books from their Westport, Connecticut studio/home.  Sculptures include Meriwether Lewis, William Clark, Daniel Boone, John James Audubon, Abraham Lincoln, General Robert E. Lee, and General Stonewall Jackson, with the statue, End of the Trail, as its centerpiece.

Sources:
Jules and Nancy Heller, North American Women Artists of the 20th Century
Peter Falk, Who Was Who in American Art
internet---http://www.nationalcowboymuseum.org/r_a_fras.html

* For more in-depth information about these terms and others, see AskART.com Glossary http://www.askart.com/AskART/lists/Art_Definition.aspx

 








Biography from Cornish Colony Museum:
Born in Morton Park, near Chicago, Illinois, Laura Gardin Fraser studied at the Arts Students League under the man who became her husband, James Earle Fraser.  She proved to be a brilliant student, winning the Saint-Gaudens Medal in her first year, a scholarship in her second, and the coveted Saint-Gaudens Figure Prize. 

She had to struggle against society’s pressure to submerge her art under the shadow of her husband’s, but she succeeded to become American’s top woman medalist.  She was the first woman to receive the Saltus Gold Medal of the American Numismatic Society and the first woman to design a coin for the U. S. Treasury. 

She was a member of the National Academy of Design and the National Sculpture Society.  She created massive works for the United States Military Academy in West Point and for the Brookgreen Garden Museum in South Carolina.

She is in the collection of the National Cowboy Hall of Fame in Oklahoma.  An entire building in this museum is devoted entirely to the plaster models and personal effects of both Laura and James Earle Fraser.  She is also in the collection of the Cornish Colony Museum, the National Archives Building and Syracuse University.

** If you discover credit omissions or have additional information to add, please let us know at registrar@AskART.com.


Laura Gardin is also mentioned in these AskART essays:
Cornish Colony

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