by Bruce Kamerling
Curator of Collections San Diego Historical Society
From the beginnings of civilization, sculpture has been used to memorialize people and events, and ornament cities and homes. Most of the great cities of the world display public monuments, fountains and architectural embellishments which contribute to each community’s unique identity, and become a source of pride to its citizens. Although the average San Diegan would probably have a difficult time listing ten pieces of local sculpture done before 1940, a number of notable sculptors produced work in, and for, San Diego.
Aside from the pottery dolls of the Kumeyaay Indians and polychrome religious statues of the Spanish colonists, the earliest sculptures in San Diego appear to have been architectural ornaments.1 In the boom years of the late 1880s, a number of buildings received embellishments in the form of inexpensive zinc sculptures. Thirteen larger than life-size zinc allegorical figures made by the Bakewell Mullins Company of Cleveland, Ohio, crowned the newly enlarged San Diego County Courthouse (1888-89).2 Dr. Schmitt’s Dispensary on Fourth Avenue, completed in 1888, became something of a sculptural fantasy with Grecian figures, masks, owls, and a rampant lion on the facade.3
A nationwide economic depression in the 1890s, as well as a general trend away from ornamentation, reduced already limited opportunities for local sculptors. In 1896, the young Arthur Putnam attempted to convince the San Diego City Council to erect a statue commemorating Juan Rodriquez Cabrillo, discoverer of San Diego Bay. He asked only for enough money to buy materials and pay one assistant, but the city declined owing to a “lack of funds.”4 Fortunately, private patronage was more forthcoming. In 1903, E. W. Scripps commissioned Putnam to do a series of large bronze figures depicting different eras of San Diego’s history for Miramar Ranch. Three of these are still on public display around the community.5
After the turn of the century, more sculptors began to migrate to San Diego. Allen Hutchinson arrived in 1906, and Anna Valentien and Charles Cristadoro in 1908. Felix Peano produced his first work in San Diego in 1910, about the same time Marco Zim arrived to assist Maurice Braun with the new San Diego Academy of Art.6
Perhaps one of the most important, and most overlooked, sculptures in San Diego is the life-size bronze Angel of Death, part of the memorial for the U. S. Grant, Jr., family at Greenwood Cemetery. Henry Augustus Lukeman (1872 – 1935), who had studied with Daniel Chester French, completed the sculpture in 1911. French’s influence is strong in this work, a brooding hooded figure holding a lotus, symbol of rebirth. Lukeman later took over the colossal sculptures on Stone Mountain, Georgia, which had been started by Gutzon Borglum.
Another little-known sculpture project from this period decorates the corners of the Golden West Hotel downtown. Frank Lloyd Wright’s son John Lloyd Wright designed the hotel in 1913 under the supervision of Harrison Albright. Alfonso Iannelli (1888 – 1965), an Italian emigrant who taught art in Los Angeles at that time, produced the ornamental and highly stylized figures for the building. Iannelli worked with a number of important architects including Irving Gill, and after moving to Chicago, Frank Lloyd Wright.7 He produced sculptures for the Midway Gardens in Chicago with Wright and other decorations for the Century of Progress Exposition in 1933.
Plans for San Diego’s upcoming Panama-California Exposition which would celebrate the completion of the Panama Canal in 1915, produced a feeling of excitement and anticipation. Many artists and craftsmen arrived to work on the fair. Unfortunately, the names of the artists for some of the exposition’s finest sculptures such as those decorating the east facade of the Varied Industries Building (now Casa Del Prado) and the nude caryatids on the Commerce and Industries Building (now Casa de Balboa) have been lost to us.
More documentation survives for the artwork on the buildings forming the California Quadrangle, designed as a centerpiece for the fair and intended to be among the few structures remaining after it closed. Bertram Goodhue, architect for the quadrangle buildings, called for figure sculptures in the spandrels above the West Gate and on the multi-tiered Spanish Colonial frontispiece of the California Building itself (now Museum of Man). The services of the Piccirilli Brothers of New York were engaged to do this work.
The story of the Piccirilli Brothers is one of the most fascinating in the history of American sculpture. Few nineteenth century American sculptors knew how to carve marble. Usually, they produced a model in plaster that was taken to Italy to be copied in marble by professional stone carvers. In 1888, Giuseppe Piccirilli, descendant of generations of marble carvers in Carrara, Italy, immigrated to New York with his six sculptor sons. They set up a studio in New York where executed the marble carving for most of the well-known sculptors of the day including Daniel Chester French, Augustus Saint-Gaudens, and Frederick MacMonnies. The brothers completed their most famous job in 1919, the actual carving of French’s enormous figure of Lincoln for the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D. C. Although their busy studio did not allow them much time to do individual work, each of the brothers created sculpture of his own and several of them received important commissions and awards.
Four of the brothers are credited with doing work of the California Quadrangle.8 Attilio (1866 – 1945), the head of the studio, and Furio (1868 – 1949) modeled the historical figures and busts on the frontispiece of the California Building. Furio also produced the spandrel figures above the West Gate; a female representing the Pacific Ocean and a male representing the Atlantic Ocean which were joined by the opening of the Panama Canal.9 Orazio (1872 – 1954) and Masaniello (called “Tom,” b. 1870) executed the ornamental work and Churrigueresque frames on the building.
The interior of the California Building provided space for additional sculptural ornamentation. Sallie James Farnham (1876 – 1943), a self-taught sculptor, produced a historical frieze for the Pan-American Union Building in Washington, D. C., in 1910. Depicting events in the discovery, exploration and settlement of the New World, casts of these reliefs were made for the San Diego fair.10 Well versed in Spanish Colonial History, Farnham remains best known for her life-size equestrian statue of Simon Bolivar in New York’s Central Park and her figure of Junipero Serra with an Indian boy at the San Fernando Mission.
Another woman, Jean Beman Cook-Smith (born 1865) modeled a series of relief panels which can still be seen in the rotunda of the California Building. Cook-Smith had been a pupil of the Art Institute of Chicago and also studied in Europe. Her panels depict scenes from the life of the ancient Maya of Yucatan, and complimented the full-size casts of authentic Mayan stelae also displayed in the rotunda. In later years, the sculptor divided her time between Jamaica, Long Island, and Chula Vista, California.
The only other sculptors whose names can be conclusively linked to the San Diego exposition are Henrick L. Carlson (1859-1944) who served as Director of Foreign Arts, and Fred C. Schmohl (1847-1922) and Henry R. Schmohl (n.d.) who were listed in the San Diego directory for 1913 as a modeler and a plasterer. Little is known about Henry Schmohl, but Fred worked on expositions in Chicago, Seattle and San Francisco. Living in Los Angeles, Fred also produced two enormous dragons for the Dragon Gorge amusement park at Venice, California, about 1907. Henry is credited with the ornamentation on the Indian Arts Building (now House of Charm) and the high relief bust of Junipero Serra formerly on the Food Products building and now on display in the sculpture court at the Casa del Prado.11
The sculpture for San Diego’s exposition was architectural and primarily historical in nature. At the fair’s official art exhibition, several sculptors participated including Caspar Gruenfeld, Julia Bracken Wendt, and Andrew Bijurman, but no free-standing sculptures decorated the exposition grounds.12 Many expositions, particularly those at Chicago (1893) and San Francisco (1915) provided visitors with numerous decorative outdoor sculptures. Such work would not have been appropriate to the Spanish Colonial theme in San Diego (even in the nude caryatids and West Gate figures do stretch beyond the limits of authenticity). Christian Brinton writing in The International Studio complimented San Diego for “The welcome absence of the customary flatulent and dropsical statuary” that populated so many expositions.13
After the fair, San Diego attracted a new generation of sculptors. The young Donal Hord arrived in 1916 and began studying with Anna Valentien the following year. James Tank Porter returned from his studies in the late 1910s, about the same time that Ruth Norton Ball and Mabel Fairfax Smith arrived. But, even with a growing list of available talent, San Diego still had little call for sculptors. This situation made modest improvements in the 1920s.
In 1923, Merrell Gage (1892-1981) moved to Los Angeles after studies in New York at the Art Students’ League and Beaux Arts Institute of Design, and also with Gutzon Borglum. Gage’s mother and sister lived in La Jolla where he visited them on occasion. In January of 1925, Gage arranged to have an exhibit of his work in Balboa Park which later opened at the La Jolla Library designed by William Templeton Johnson. Johnson had created a niche at the back of the library’s court, opposite the entrance, in anticipation of some type of fountain. Gage accepted the commission to make a sculpture for this fountain and produced a bronze relief panel of seated child holding book, a charming piece appropriate to its setting.14 Besides teaching at the University of Southern California and Chouinard Art Institute, Gage executed numerous commissions in the Los Angeles area and served on the sculpture commission for the 1936 Olympics.15
To honor San Diego’s great benefactress, Ellen Browning Scripps, the people of San Diego commissioned James Tank Porter to produce testimonial gift for the people of La Jolla in her honor. Dedicated on June 14, 1926, this monument has the distinction of being the first free-standing public sculpture in San Diego.16 Suitably modest, the work consists of a bronze figure of a young girl kneeling over a small pool with hands outstretched facing a curved limestone bench. On the back of the bench, Porter carved incised relief figures of children dancing. Placed in front of La Jolla Recreation Center, one of Miss Scripps’ many gifts to the city, the testimonial faced her home across the street.
1926 saw the opening of the Fine Arts Gallery of San Diego (now San Diego Museum of Art), and the beginning of a new era of art awareness in San Diego. Designed By William Templeton Johnson and Robert Snyder, the building maintained the Spanish Colonial theme started by Bertram Goodhue. The architects provided an elaborate Plateresque frontispiece complete with sculptured figures, and the services of Furio Piccirilli were again called to San Diego. He executed life-size statues of the Spanish painters Velazquez, Murillo and Zurbaran and medallions with busts of El Greco and Ribera.17
The inaugural exhibition of the new museum included many examples of sculpture, and featured over thirty piece by the Serbian artist Ivan Mestrovic.* See note One of these, a marble relief of a mother and child, was purchased for the permanent collection. Other sculptures included over one hundred bronzes by Arthur Putnam given by Alma de Bretteville Spreckels, and Gutzon Borglum’s marble piece. The Awakening given by Archer M. Huntington.18
Huntington, founder of the Hispanic Society in New York and husband of sculptor Anna Hyatt Huntington (1876-1973), knew Johnson and developed an interest in San Diego’s museum. This resulted in the gift of another work, perhaps the best-known public sculpture in San Diego, El Cid Campeador. Created by Anna Huntington, this larger than life-size equestrian bronze is a replica of the original presented to the city of Seville, Spain, in 1927. The Huntingtons produced two additional casts, one for courtyard of the Hispanic Society headquarters, and the other presented to San Diego after having been exhibited in San Francisco.19 Dedicated on July 5, 1930, it stands on a high limestone base designed by Johnson.20 Later, casts were also made for San Francisco and Buenos Aires, Argentina. In 1931, the Huntingtons founded the Brookgreen Sculpture Gardens in South Carolina which now contains one of the finest collections of American sculpture in existence. Three more of Mrs. Huntington’s works presented to San Diego’s museum by the couple. Two of these, Youth Taming the Wild and Young Diana now flank the entrance to the San Diego Museum of Art.
The economic depression that swept the nation in the early 1930s created hardships for all artists but particularly sculptors who had to cope with costly materials and foundry expenses. At a time when necessities took priority, few people had money for art. Roosevelt’s “New Deal” established programs of public art to keep artists employed during these difficult years. The government sponsored programs included the State Emergency Relief Administration (SERA), Public Works of Art project (PWAP), and the Treasury Relief Art Project (TRAP).21
Government projects employed a number of local sculptors. Donald Hord, Isabelle Schultz and Celeste Batiste made educational dioramas for the city schools through the Curriculum Project of the Works Progress Administration (WPA). The WPA funded much of the Work for the California Pacific International Exposition held In San Diego in 1935 – 36. Included were sculptures by Donal Hord, Rose Hanks and Frederick Schweigardt. Additionally, some of Hord’s most memorable works such as Aztec, Guardian of Water and Legend of California resulted primarily from funding by government agencies.22
One local WPA project, however, was not the work of a local sculptor. The decorations for federal buildings fell under the jurisdictions of the Treasury Department which held competitions to select artists. Los Angeles sculptor Archibald Garner (b.1904) won the competition for ornamentation on the main San Diego Post Office. He produced nine glazed ceramic relief panels illustrating the theme Transportation of the Mail. It is not known if any local artists competed for this commission.23 Garner’s other WPA projects include post office decorations for Los Angeles, Fresno and Inglewood as well as the obelisk at the Griffith Park Planetarium in Los Angeles.24
The 1935-36 exposition once again focused attention on San Diego and Balboa Park. The fair’s official art exhibition included work by most of the local sculptors as well as Beniamino Bufano, Nicolai Fechin, Jacques Schnier, and William Zoarch.25 By the 1930s, the groups of pretentious sculpture that formerly crowded expositions had generally fallen out of favor. Of the few works executed specifically for the fair, Rose Hanks created an incised relief doorways depicting Junipero Serra for the House of Hospitality, and for the courtyard of the same building Donal Hord carved his well-known limestone fountain figure Woman of Tehuantepec.
Frederick Schweigardt (1885 – 1948)was named the “official sculptor for the exposition, much to the surprise of the local sculptors.26 A student of the Stuttgart and Munich art academies in Germany, Schweigardt also studied with Anguste Rodin in Paris where he received first prize at the Paris Exposition of 1913. For San Diego’s fair, Schweigardt created a large fountain Four Cornerstones of Americans Democracy for Hall of Education (now Balboa Park Club). At his Mesa foundry, James Tank Porter cast Schweigart’s bronze dancing figures for the top of the fountain. Schweigardt also produced a bronze relief plaque honoring D.C. Collier, director of the 1915 exposition, which can still be seen on the west wall inside the California Quadrangle. During the fair, Schweigradt maintained a studio in Balboa Park where he made busts Franklin D. Roosevelt, Will Rogers, Albert Einstein and several local people. After the exposition, he worked in San Francisco until the Mid 1940s.27
The only new free-standing outdoor sculpture displayed for the fair was Spirit of the CCC by John Palo Kangas (1904 -1957). Born in Finland, Kangas was himself an enrollee of the Civilian Conservation Corps and originally created this figure, a young man stripped to the waist holding a shovel, for the CCC camp at Griffith Park. CCC Assistant Director James J. McEntee assisted by film actress Bette Davis dedicated San Diego’s versions of sculpture on May 19, 1936. Other California works by Kangas include the statue of Junipero Serra in Ventura, and the sculptures of Colonel Thomas Baker and Father Francisco Garces for the city of Bakersfield.28
Anna Coleman Ladd (1878 – 1939), who had relatives in San Diego, worked here seasonally from 1936 to 1938. A nationally known sculptor, Ladd had executed busts of many famous people including Anna Pavlova, Ethel Barrymore and Eleanor Duse. During World War I, she organized the American Red Cross studio to make portrait masks for disfigured soldiers. In the Spring of 1937, she took a studio at the Spanish Village in Balboa Park. Here Ladd produced Spirit of California which she exhibited in a show of her bronzes at the Fine Arts Gallery in April.29 While in San Diego, she completed a bronze head of Reginald Poland, director of the Fine Arts Gallery which, years later, was presented to museum at a reception honoring Poland.30
With the start of World War II, many local sculptors dropped the tools of their art and took jobs more directly related to the war effort. Isabelle Churchman became a draftsman for the 11th Naval District, and Ruth Ball taught art to young sailors at the USO. When the Navy took over Balboa Park, the art museum had to temporarily relocate, and the studios in the Spanish Village were also evacuated for military use. This signaled the end of an era of artistic growth for San Diego.
Writing for The Modern Clubwoman in 1929, Ruth Ball expressed the conviction that” … a part of the world’s great sculpture shall find a resting place in Balboa Park where the younger students of art … may by contemplating the greatest art of the past, produce the highest art for the future.”31 She went on to conclude “Someday we will have here in San Diego a man like Bourdelle or Mestrovic who will surround himself with students of sculpture from all over the world, and make San Diego a world has been home to a number of talented and even significant American sculptors. Here are their stories.
1. The San Diego Museum of Man contains a collection of Kumeyaay Indian dolls. Many of the original polychrome statues from the San Diego Presidio Chapel and San Diego Mission may now be seen at Mission San Luis Rey.
2. These were probably all catalogue items and consisted of three allegorical figures above the south pediment; presidents Washington, Lincoln, Grant, and Garfield on the four corners of the roof; and personifications of Agriculture, Liberty, Commerce and Industry on the clock tower which was surmounted by a 10 foot tall figure of Justice. The presidents and pediment figures were removed after the 1906 San Francisco earthquake. The five clock tower figures were removed in 1939 and are now in the collection of the San Diego Historical Society.
3. This building has been completely remodeled, but early photos show the elaborate facade treatment. These sculptures were probably also made of zinc.
4. San Diego History Center document file, City Document No 1159, letter from Arthur Putnam to the Mayor and Common Council of the City of San Diego dated January 7, 1896.
5. Putnam’s Indian and Padre can be seen on the grounds of Presidio Park, and Ploughman is at Scripps Institution of Oceanography in La Jolla. The other two figures were to represent a soldier and a Mexican woman on horseback, but these were never completed.
6. San Diego Union, 8-20-1911 18:1-3
7. Among Gill’s photographs at the University of California Santa Barbara are pictures of Iannelli sculptures. A presentation drawing for an unrealized project at Mission Beach by Gill and Iannelli also exists.
8. Bertram G. Goodhue and Carleton M. Winslow, The Architecture and the Gardens of the San Diego Exposition, Paul Elder & Co., San Francisco, 1916, pp. 32 & 34.
9. Florence Christman in The Romance of Balboa Park (San Diego, 1977, pg. 80) incorrectly identifies the female figure as the Atlantic Ocean and the male as the Pacific Ocean. The oceans are clearly identified by inscribed ribbons behind the figures.
10. Now lost, these were the first art exhibits to arrive at the exposition grounds.San Diego Union 7-11-1914 7:6.
11. Goodhue & Winslow, pp. 76 & 126.
12. The other non-local sculptors who exhibited at the Panama-California Exposition in 1915 were Maude Daggett, May Mott-Smith, Elizabeth Edmond, and Emile Stearns Perry. This same group plus Annette Saint-Gaudens, sister-in-law of Augustus, exhibited at the Panama-California International Exposition of 1916.
13. Christian Brinton, “The San Diego and San Francisco Expositions” The International Studio, Vol. LV, No. 220, June, 1915, pp. cv-cx.
14. La Jolla Journal, 5-9-1924, 1-2-1925, 1-30-1925, 2-6-1925, 9-4-1925. This sculpture is now in the entry patio of the La Jolla Athenaeum.
15. Nancy Moure, Southern California Art Dustin Publ., Glendale, 1984, entry for Merrell Gage.
16. La Jolla Journal 6-17-1926 1:2.
17. Beatrice Gilman Proske, Brookgreen Gardens Sculpture, Brookgreen Gardens, South California, 1943, pg. 99, credits Furio Piccirilli with the statue of Murillo. The style of the rest of the sculptures is so similar that they must all be from the same hand.
18. Catalogue of the Inaugural Exhibition Fine Arts Gallery of San Diego, February 26 to March 311, 1926.
19. Beatrice Proske, “Huntington: Art Patron Extraordinaire”Sculpture Review, Vol. XXXIII, No. 3 (Fall, 1984); p. 26, states that the exhibition “Contemporary American Sculpture” held at the California Palace of the Legion of Honor in 1929 was underwritten by Archer M. Huntington.
20. San Diego Union 7-6-30 1:2-5 & 14:6-7.
21. de Saisset Museum,New Deal Art: California, University of Santa Clara, 1976, p.22.
22. Aztec is now placed near the entrance to San Diego State University. Students contributed dimes to pay for the stone, but the labor and tools were paid for by the WPA. Guardian of Water on the harbor side of the County Administration Building was partially funded by the San Diego Fine Arts Society in honor of Helen M. Towle. Legend of California is on the rear wall of the Coronado High School Library.
23. Donal Hord competed for the Santa Barbara Post Office decorations in 1936 also using the theme “Transportation of the Mail”. This commission was awarded to William O. Atkin. Hord’s presentation drawings are in the collection of the San Diego History Center.
24. New Deal Art, p. 92.
25. The catalogue for the Official Art Exhibition of the California Pacific International Exposition, May 29 to November 11, 1935, also includes sculptures by Ruth Peabody, Cartaino Scarpitta, Carl Paul Jennewein, Jo Mora, Archibald Garner, Henry Lion, and Merrell Gage. Most of these were loaned for the exposition, but some of them were in the permanent collection of the Fine Arts Gallery.
26. The late Homer Dana, Donal Hord’s assistant for many years, related to the author how surprised the local sculptors were when it was announced that the “world famous” Schweigardt had been named official sculptors for the exposition. None of them had ever heard of him before.
27.San Diego Union, 12-15-1935 16:1, 7-19-1936 7:3, 9-5-1936 1:6, 11-5-1936 11:2. The San Diego History Center has the original plaster relief head of D.C. Collier.
28. The San Diego statue has disappeared without a trace. Information on Kangas was supplied by Marion Wilbur of the research committee of the San Diego Chapter of the CCC Alumni who has been trying to locate the missing sculpture.
29. San Diego Union, 4-18-1937 8:1. The San Diego History Center has a plaster lunette relief plaque depicting St. Barbara that is inscribed on the reverse” A.C. Ladd, S. Diego 1938″.
30. San Diego Union, 10-1-1967 El:3-4.
31. Ruth N. Ball “Collaborating in Art” The Modern Clubwoman, Vol. III, No. 3, Dec. 1929, p. 10.