Sunday, July 01, 2007

You Go Girl

The Reingold collection has also gotten me more interested
in Sally James Farnham (1869-1943)
because this is not the kind
of sculpture that I like,
but how can I resist
its infectious enthusiasm?

It's not calm, contemplative, timeless,
but it's exploding outward.

It's not an icon,
it's a bauble,
and if it belongs in a garden,
it's not in a meditative garden,
but in a garden party
for the fashionable glitterati
(where, of course, I would not be invited!)

But she would have attended quite a few,
because that was her world,
as the only child
of a distinguished Civil War colonel,
who then became a successful New York attorney.

Dad took her around the world,
(to Italy, France, Japan)
shared his love for outdoor adventure,
introduced her into New York society,
where at the age of 27
she married
Paulding Farnham (1859-1927)

who was the chief designer
for Charles Tiffany

Paulding was himself
the child of privilege
and his uncle,
a vice-president at Tiffanys,
got him in the door of the 'Tiffany school',
where he was trained as a designer.

Paulding was pretty good, wasn't he ?
He developed his own, bold style

and he was looking at
Meso-American examples,
not just European

and he was a sculptor (and painter) as well.
If you read a history of Tiffanys,
he's the one designer who's mentioned by name,
and exemplifies its golden age.

Meanwhile, his young wife
threw parties, rode horses,
had children,
enjoyed life

until the death of her father in 1901
shocked her system,
made her bedridden,
and to pick up her spirits,
Paulding gave her some clay to play with.

The rest, as they say, is history.

The above is a piece that she made in 1903,
so in just two years,
her love of life had moved into sculpture,
and by 1905 she was a distinguished professional.

Here, for example, is a portrait
she executed in 1904.

I suspect that the actual marble
was carved by someone else,
but it's design is quite enjoyable,
isn't it ?

Maybe, it doesn't belong in a museum beside Houdon,
but it would do quite well in the client's elegant home.

Here's a fountain she made in the same year
(and remember, this is 3 years after she first touched clay)

For those of us in the German school
who want sculpture to feel architectonic,
it's something of a disaster,
but as something astride an ornamental vase,
it might be more enjoyable

which serves to remind us
that though Sally never went to art school,
she was coached by her husband,
the great Tiffany designer

She was also coached by a family friend,
Frederick Remington,
and two things about Sally,
she really took her coaching seriously,
and she loved horses and the outdoors.

(the above piece was made in 1905)

This was the period of great cemetery
sculpture in America,
and this "Defenders of the Flag"
was Sally's contribution in 1908
to Mount Hope in Rochester, New York.
(so yes, she was getting some pretty big commissions)

I'm not going to call this great sculpture,
but it's a rather tender, gentle
war memorial,
and I wish it were in a cemetery near me,
(i.e. it passes my cemetery test:
would you rather look at the trees ?)

And something else about Sally,
she took coaching,
but she also had her own voice,
and her opinions.
Colonel James daughter was not a milquetoast !

The above is her
rather excessive depiction of
"Cave Woman" (1912)

in response to the above depiction of
"Cave Man" (1906)
by Frederick Remington.

(and I wouldn't want to meet either
caveman or cavewoman in a dark cave)

But then tragedy struck,
and her husband, Paulding, ran off to the West.

Paulding was a protege of Charles Tiffany,
but when the old man died,
Louis Comfort took over the company,
and Paulding got pushed to the side.

Eventually he quit,
and even quit being a designer,
and went to Rockies to find his fortune
speculating in mines.

(the Farnhams had a ranch in British Columbia)

I suppose he met with some success,
and the rather spectacular Mount Farnham was named in his honor,

but he never came back to live with Sally,
he kept draining their finances,
she eventually filed for divorce by reason of abandonment in 1915,
and he would later die penniless in an insane asylum in 1927.

The above subdued piece of 1915
seems to be a record of this personal event,
and adds yet another dimension to Sally's work.

Knowing its place in her life,
it's quite moving,
but if we didn't know,
and just stumbled across it in a museum,
well.. I think I'd rush right past.

Here's one of her neoclassic
cemetery monuments of 1928,
and doesn't it feel so
wholesome and American,
(like Lorado Taft's cavorting sorority girls ?

There's just something gentle
and civilized about her,
so her version of Remington cowboys
("Payday", 1930)
are cowboys who would never swear
or visit the Miss Kitty's girls
above the saloon

This is probably as naughty as she gets,
her 1920 version of "Feather Dancer"
where the rather provocative
French strip-tease act
is rendered as a chaste goddess.

It's got elegance,
but when you look close at the volumes,
it just doesn't have
that extra kick
that makes me want to go to art museums

And here's her 1920 portrait
of Jascha Heifitz,
which doesn't feel to me
like an inspired violinist
so much as a really nice dad,
which I'd guess is what she wanted most.

Well... that's it for my Sally James Farnham show,
and I've very grateful to Michael P. Reed
the director of the Sally James Farham Catalog Raisonne Project
for all the pictures and information he has gathered.
and for this this book written by Peter Hasrick.

Reading back over my little essay,
I realize that I've been ambivalent
about almost every piece,
because the qualities that I grew up with
belong to the period of sculpture that
followed hers -- and that eventually
ended her career -- and that while her
kind of ebullient sculpture/illustration
has been enjoying a rebirth in the
genre of Cowboy art -- my kind remains
buried beneath a mountain of neglect.

But I do think she's better than any cowboy artist
alive today who never had the chance to be coached
by Frederick Remington and a Tiffany designer.

One last note:

I've left out this statue of Simon Bolivar in Central Park because I just can't stand to look at it -- but she did spend five year modeling this enormous piece, and it does remain as her most famous monument


Blogger Robert said...

The trouble for her is that there are and were an awful lot of talented American Lady Sculptors . The competition is/was very fierce. She for me is not top of the list but I do have some difficulty in deciding who is.

It is interesting that so many produced excellent works based on the figures of women and children, and lived in quite a puritanical country and expected “the great and good” to accept their work, some of which is even now considered quite controversial or inappropriate. I can’t make up my mind whether this is due to naivety, making a point, trying to push the boundaries or just real/ proper aesthetic reasons.

Perhaps one should not really care but analyse on the basis of “making life worth living”.

July 03, 2007  
Blogger Robert said...

I missed saying that I fine the hands of the nude here

particularly special, indeed I like this work the best in this post, your line about tragedy is appropriate indeed.

July 03, 2007  
Blogger James said...

Does your livelyhood depend in any way on the use of the written word?

It is a shame Great Grandmother Sally is being blogged by a nincompoop (spelling?, check yours if you can bear it).

July 10, 2007  
Blogger Michael said...


Shame on you! Your post was completely uncalled for and feel I must apologize on your behalf. Your great-grandmother Sally was not the world's most perfect speller herself, nor was she known for her penmenship. I would know as I've read pages and pages of her writings. Chris was nice enough to give Sally Farnham's name and work some space here on his blog. In a society which has all but forgotten your great-grandmother's amazing life accomplishments and work, it would seem to me that a little more gratitude would suffice!

July 12, 2007  

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