American Numismatic Biographies author Pete Smith submitted this
article on husband-and-wife sculptors Laura Gardin Fraser and James
Earle Fraser and the recent fate of their work. Thanks!
Changing Tastes in Art
Great monuments built in the past are being removed because they are no longer
considered appropriate representations of our public values. Art of the Frasers, James
Earle Fraser and Laura Gardin Fraser, are both subject to such changes.
James Earle Fraser (1876-1953)
James Earle Fraser was born in Winona, Minnesota, on November 4, 1876, the son of
Thomas Alexander Fraser (1844-1895) and Cora Estelle West Fraser (1849-1916).
Thomas was a construction engineer pushing railroads west. Before the birth of James,
he was part of a crew sent to recover bodies of soldiers killed at the Battle of Little
Bighorn. James lived for a while in a railroad car and grew up among Indians at
Mitchell, South Dakota. He often represented Indian themes with his art.
He was an assistant to sculptor Richard Bock at age fourteen. He studied to be a
sculptor, first at the Art Institute of Chicago and then in France at Ecole des Beaux-Arts
and the Academie Juliane.
An early work was
The End of the Trail portraying a weary Indian on a weary horse.
He modelled it in clay in 1894 and won a $1000 prize for it in Paris in 1896. This
sculpture brought him to the attention of Augustus Saint-Gaudens. Fraser exhibited a
plaster cast at the 1915 Panama-Pacific International Exposition. It was not cast in
bronze until 1918.
He worked as an assistant to Saint-Gaudens before opening a studio in 1902. Fraser was
an instructor at the Art Students League in New York from 1906 to 1911. On November
27, 1913, he married Laura Gardin, one of his former students. A year later they moved
to Westport, Connecticut, and opened a studio they would occupy for fifty years.
Fraser was known for monumental sculptures for public buildings. These included:
Benjamin Franklin for the Franklin Institute (1911)
Alexander Hamilton south of the Treasury Building (1923)
Justice and Law for the Supreme Court Building (1935)
Albert Gallatin north the Treasury Building (1947)
George S. Patton at West Point (1950)
Fraser created the Theodore Roosevelt equestrian statue for the Museum of Natural
History in 1939. On each side of Roosevelt were two shirtless men. One represented a
Native American and the other an African American. The statue was removed on
January 20, 2022.
His most notable numismatic commission was for the
Buffalo Nickel of 1913, sculpting
both the obverse Indian Head and reverse bison. He and Laura jointly are credited with the
design of the Oregon Trail Memorial half dollar 1926-1929.
Fraser designed the Norse-American Centennial medal of 1925. This is sometimes
credited to Opus Fraser.
Fraser died in Westport, Connecticut, on October 11, 1953. He is buried with his wife
there at Willowbrook Cemetery.
Laura Gardin Fraser (1889-1966)
She was born as Laura Gardin in the Chicago suburb of Morton Grove on September 14,
1889. Her father was a banker, John Emil Gardin (1853-1929) and her mother was an
artist, Alice Tilton Gardin (1859-1949).
She showed an early aptitude for sculpture with guidance from her mother. She studied
at the Art Students League from 1907 to 1911. One of her instructors was James Earle
Fraser. They were married in 1913 and had no children.
Prior to her marriage in 1913, she received a commission from Woman's Home
Companion to produce their Better Babies medal.
She entered a 1931 competition to design a quarter with the head of George Washington.
Her design won the competition. That winning design was rejected by Secretary of the
Treasury Andrew Mellon who granted the design to John Flanagan.
She won a competition to design an equestrian sculpture for Robert E, Lee and
Stonewall Jackson in Baltimore. The sculpture was removed early in the morning of
August 16, 2017, and moved to Charlottesville, Virginia.
She is credited with the sculpture of several commemorative coins and congressional
medals. Her Alabama Centennial half dollar was the first U. S. coin designed by a
Alabama centennial half dollar (1921)
Grant Memorial half dollar (1922)
Grant Memorial gold dollar (1922)
Fort Vancouver Centennial half dollar (1925)
Oregon Trail Memorial half dollar (1926-1939)
MacArthur Peso and 50 centavos for the Philippines
Washington Bicentennial medal (1932) (US 610)
Charles A. Lindberg medal (USM 645) competition.
Benjamin Franklin Congressional medal
George C. Marshall Congressional medal (1946)
ANS Centennial Medal (1958)
She was awarded the J. Sanford Saltus medal by the ANS in 1926.
Laura Gardin Fraser died in a hospital in Norwich, Connecticut. She is buried with her
Her winning 1931 Washington design was put on a 1999 five-dollar gold piece
commemorating the death of Washington.
The Fraser design is now used as the common obverse of the American Women
Quarters™ series beginning in 2022. The initials LGF appear on the truncation.
Laura Gardin Fraser was commissioned to create three bronze panels for a new library
at the U. S. Military Academy at West Point. These were installed and dedicated in 1965.
The panels represent, according to a published guide, that the
central portion of the
panel depicts in symbolic and allegorical forms the principal events of the period and
the personages associated with them. Each panel is about 11 feet tall and 4.5 feet wide.
Last year Congress appointed a Naming Commission to identify
assets at military facilities. They recommended renaming several southern forts that
were named after Confederate heroes. They found that the central panel of the Fraser
relief has a hooded figure with the label Ku Klux Klan. It appears that this sculpture is
outside the intended scope of the Naming Commission. The Academy is considering the
Wayne Homren, Editor
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