The Husband and Wife Sculptors of Rock Creek Cemetery
James Earle Fraser –Frederick Keep Monument. 1920
Laura Gardin Fraser – Hitt Memorial, 1931
The world renown sculptor James Earle Fraser, and his wife, Laura Gardin Fraser, a great sculptor in her own right, are an interesting study in how marriage and the arts can co-exist and even flourish in the spirit of collaboration.
James Earle Fraser was a student of Augustus Saint Gaudens; his best known works in Washington, D.C. are:
- “Music & Harvest” “Aspiration & Literature”(The Arts of Peace) – on the Arlington Memorial Bridge.
- The John Ericsson Memorial, in East Potomac Park near The Lincoln Memorial- comemorating the Swedish-American inventor of the screw-type propellor and designer of the USS Monitor Iron ship.
- The Alexander Hamilton statue at the Commerce Department.
- The Second Division Memorial, The Ellipse.
- The Robert Todd Lincoln sarcophagus in Arlington Cemetery and a score more installations in the National Capitol area.
His best known sculpture-The End Of The Trail-an evocative and graceful statue of a Native American brave slouched on horseback wearied by war and loss, holding a battle lance is one of the most copied pieces of “Western Frontier” art. Fraser himself complained that he should have gotten a copyright on the image, as everyone who used it for calendars and reproductions have made more money off this work than he ever did. Still, if counterfeit exposure is any corelation to the axiom ‘imitation is the sincerest form of flattery’— this piece serves as an illustration. Because of wartime scarcity of bronze this great piece was never actually cast from the plaster in Fraser’s lifetime. It began to degrade and was saved and is now being preserved and exhibited in the entrance of the Oklahoma Museum.
Fraser’s famous design of the so-called ‘Indian Head-Buffalo Nickel’ is iconic. Fraser’s father—an executive in the trans-continental railroad—was one of the party sent to The Black Hills of Dakota to find and bury the remains of George Armstrong Custer’s 7th calvary after the military disaster at the Little Big Horn. Fraser was exposed to the terrible consequences of the Native American wars, as his art illustrated. This great drama still remains unresolved, if not largely forgotten, in the history taught in the United States today.
His internship to Augustus Saint Gaudens is yet another example of how a pupil can flourish and indeed stand shoulder to shoulder with a former mentor. Augustus Saint Gaudens (sculptor of the Adams Memorial in Rock Creek Cemetery) was so sought after that he couldn’t fill all his orders or requests— hence all the commissions he was unable to complete he handed to James E. Fraser, his brightest pupil.
Laura Gardin Fraser was James Fraser’s student at The Art Students League in New York City, where they met and later married. All great artists have mentors – in this case the love, talent and mutual respect grew into a lifelong love and commitment to the art of neo-classical sculpture. She gained much, both by her time as Fraser’s student, and by Augustus Saint Gauden’s mentorship. Their marriage was indeed a mutual collaboration, though James E. Fraser may have attained greater stature in the decidedly male dominated world, Laura worked as an artist worthy of respect and and merit. The Frasers remained a truly great creative couple for life. By the efforts of Laura Gardin Fraser, and the many great female sculptors and artists of the late 19th and early 20th century, the social barriers have all but been eliminated in the world of art—where true equality has always been at the avant-gaarde of history.