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James Earle and Laura Gardin Fraser Papers

An inventory of their papers at Syracuse University

Finding aid created by: -
Date: unknown

Biographical History

James Earle Fraser was born on November 4, 1876, in Winona, Minnesota, the son of Thomas A. and Cora West Fraser. His father was a railroad engineer and contractor, and when James was less than a year old the family moved to the Dakota territory, where a railroad was pushing westward. During his childhood on the prairie outside Mitchell, South Dakota, when his family lived for a time in an old railroad boxcar, Fraser saw the Indians and frontiersmen whose figures would later appear in his sculpture.

At the age of fifteen, James Earle Fraser began his studies at the Art Institute of Chicago. At about the same time, he entered the studio of Richard Bock in Chicago as a working student. About two years later Fraser completed the first version of his most famous statue, the "End of the Trail." In 1896 Fraser went to Paris and enrolled in the Ecole des Beaux Arts. His prize-winning exhibit in the American Art Association Exhibition in Paris in 1898 brought him to the attention of the noted American sculptor, Augustus Saint-Gaudens, with whom he worked for two years, returning to the United States with Saint-Gaudens. Fraser continued to work under Saint-Gaudens for two more years before setting up his own studio in MacDougal Alley, Greenwich Village, New York.

A bas-relief portrait of a young child, Horatio Hathaway Brewster, which Fraser completed in about 1902, won favorable notice, and for several years Fraser enjoyed a substantial number of commissions, many of which were children's portraits. He also made several medals during this early period, including the Edison medal in 1906. Fraser did a number of portraits of adults including J. Eastman Chase, E.W. Deming, Warren Delano, E.H. Harriman, Louis Ledoux, Charles Dana Gibson, Morris K. Jessup, Pat Ford, Mr. and Mrs. John Jacob Albright, Dr. William Polk and M.H. Schoelkopf. He also completed several small titled pieces, including "Grief," "Dancer," "Young Artist," and "Priscilla." His most important early commission was for a marble bust of Theodore Roosevelt for the Senate Chamber, begun in 1906. From this followed other work for public figures, including a bust of Elihu Root and the William Howard Taft Memorial. Fraser designed the John Hay Memorial; a cemetery piece called "Journey Through Life;" "Cheyenne Warrior" and a seated Thomas Jefferson, both for the Saint Louis World's Fair in 1904; and the Bishop Potter sarcophagus in Saint John the Divine Cathedral in New York City. In 1913 Fraser won the competition for a new United States five-cent piece; his design was the now-famous Buffalo nickel.

Fraser taught sculpture at the Art Students League in New York City from 1907 to 1911. He was married to Laura Gardin, who had been one of his students, in November 1913, and the Frasers soon built a new and larger studio in Westport, Connecticut. James Earle and Laura Gardin Fraser were close friends of the poet Edwin Arlington Robinson. Robinson was a frequent visitor to their home for months at a time during the seasons when he took a respite from writing. A special room in their house was kept as his, and the Frasers provided for him a measure of friendship in his otherwise solitary bachelor existence until his death in 1935.

In 1915 a large stucco model of Fraser's "End of the Trail" was placed in the Court of Palms of the Panama-Pacific International Exposition in San Francisco. There thousands of tourists made it a favored attraction of the Exposition. The piece was to become one of the most well-known works of American sculpture, although Fraser's name did not receive corresponding fame.

James Earle Fraser's first important public work, commissioned in 1917, was the statue of Alexander Hamilton for the Treasury Building in Washington, D.C. From that time on, he was almost never without a public commission in his studio. In the 1920's he completed two pylons, "Discoverers" and "Pioneers," for the Michigan Avenue Bridge in Chicago; four symbolic figures for the Elks Club National Memorial in Chicago; figures of Thomas Jefferson, Meriwether Lewis and William Clark for a Jefferson Memorial in Missouri; the John Ericsson Memorial in Washington, D.C. and a seated figure of Lincoln in Jersey City, N.J. He also completed two commissions for the Bank of Montreal, the "Victory" in Montreal and the "Canadian Officer" in Winnipeg. He designed the Taft Memorial and the Robert Lincoln sarcophagus, and completed a bust of Augustus Saint-Gaudens and a statue called "Primitive Inventor of Water Power" for Niagara Falls, N.Y.

In the 1930's Fraser continued to complete commission work. He designed pediments for the Archives and Commerce buildings in Washington, D.C., and two large figures to be placed in front of the U.S. Supreme Court. He completed a "Second Division Memorial," and large, seated-figure portraits of Benjamin Franklin and Thomas Edison, as well as a huge 65-ft. statue of George Washington for the 1939 New York World's Fair. In 1940 he finished the New York State Memorial to Theodore Roosevelt, which consisted of an equestrian figure of Roosevelt accompanied by figures of Daniel Boone, John James Audubon, Meriwether Lewis and George Rogers Clark.

During his career, Fraser completed numerous medals and medallions including the Navy Cross, the American Institute of Graphic Arts medal, the Yale University Howland Memorial medal, and the Gold Medal of the American Academy of Arts and Letters. World War II brought shortages of casting materials which held up several of Fraser's major projects, including the Albert Gallatin statue for the Treasury Building in Washington, D.C.; the Mayo Brothers Memorial; the Harvey Fireston Memorial, and the two giant groups for the Arlington Memorial Bridge in Washington, D.C.

After the war, although in increasing ill health, Fraser completed a few more works, among them two statues of General George S. Patton Jr., and another seated Franklin. At the time of James Earle Fraser's death, on October 11, 1953, three of his important pieces remained unfinished: a design for a Washington equestrian for the National Cathedral in Washington, D.C.; the "Buffalo Herd;" and the Reverend F. Ward Denys sarcophagus.

Laura Gardin was born on September 14, 1889, the daughter of John E. and Alice Tilton Gardin. She attended the Horace Mann School in New York and studied sculpture at the Art Students League, where her instructor was James Earle Fraser. After their marriage in 1913, she continued to work as a sculptor.

Her early works were mostly of small size, and babies and animals, especially horses and dogs, were her favorite subjects. Later she turned to work on a larger scale, and completed the reclining elks in front of the Elks Club National Memorial, for the horse's owner, Joseph Widener.

She designed a large number of medals, including the Lindbergh, George C. Marshall, and Benjamin Franklin Congressional Medals of Honor, and the U.S. Army and Navy Chaplains medal, as well as medals for the National Geographic Society, the American Bar Association, the National Sculpture Society and many others. In 1936 Laura Fraser won an invitational competition for a double equestrian statue of Robert E. Lee and "Stonewall" Jackson to be placed in Baltimore, Md. Twelve years were required to complete that work. She also completed a "Pegasus" for Brookgreen Gardens in South Carolina, a twenty-foot relief entitled "Oklahoma Run," busts of Gilbert Stuart and Mary Lyon, and three large relief panels depicting American history which were placed in the West Point Library.

Laura Gardin Fraser died on August 13, 1966. The Frasers had no children.

Scope and Contents of the Collection

The James Earle and Laura Gardin Fraser Papers comprise the personal, business and artistic records of sculptors James Earle Fraser and his wife Laura Gardin Fraser. Materials from other sculptors and artists are also present in the papers, and there is a substantial body of material from the poet Edwin Arlington Robinson. The material dates from 1872 to 1967 with the bulk falling between 1900 and 1955. The papers have been organized in five sections: Correspondence, Business records, Designs and reproductions, Memorabilia, Writings, and Glass plate negatives.

As additional aids to researchers, this finding aid also provides a listing of Edwin Arlington Robinson materials in the collection, and an Index to the chronological correspondence.

Correspondence (boxes 1-9), 1878-1967, has been arranged chronologically by year and month. An index of incoming letters has been prepared, for which correspondence was selected on the basis of significance or volume. Included are letters from a number of American sculptors and artists, including A. Stirling Calder, Daniel Chester French, Charles Dana Gibson, Cass Gilbert, Anna Hyatt Huntington, Lee Lawrie, John Russell Pope, Augustus Saint-Gaudens, Lorado Taft and Sidney B. Waugh. The most significant body of correspondence is that of Edwin Arlington Robinson. There are approximately 200 holograph Robinson letters, dating from June 1913 to December 1934. Robinson wrote to the Frasers and to Mrs. Fraser's mother, Alice Tilton Gardin, to borrow money, to inquire about their health, to offer his hesitant acceptance of their invitations to visit, and to mention his progress on his books. His letters, though brief, offer personal glimpses of an extremely modest and retiring man. Robinson's letters have been placed in negative holders for protection, and a typed transcription of the contents has been attached to each one.

The Business records (boxes 10-21), 1913-1967, stem from a file developed by the Frasers to retain items such as contracts and agreements, bills and receipts, and other general business records that they accumulated in the course of supporting themselves through commissions for sculpture. Included are correspondence, financial and legal records, organized alphabetically by subject or by the title of the sculptural work involved.

The Designs and reproductions section (boxes 22-50) contains material related to the development of the sculptural work of the Frasers and other artists. Their chief means of recording the different stages of progress of their sculpture was through photographs, which make up the bulk of this section. The material has been arranged alphabetically by the name of the artist; then in groups according to the type of work, i.e., coins, medals, sculpture, etc.; and finally alphabetically by the title of the work. Under the name of a given work may be found pictures of the subject, called models; sketches; blueprints; photographs of the work at various stages; photographic negatives on both celluloid and glass; and newspaper clippings related to the unveiling of the piece. Since much of this material cannot be reliably dated, the folders in this section do not carry dates. The glass negatives from this section have been segregated physically and their location will be indicated by a glass negative case number on the shelf list and on dummy folders within the boxes. Photographs which are too large for retention in archival boxes have been similarly segregated in oversize boxes. Recapitulations of these two groups will be found on pp. . Also included in this section are catalogues of the works of the Frasers and other artists, listed under their names and the heading "Catalogues." The section labeled "James Earle and Laura Gardin Fraser" contains one bona fide collaboration, the Oregon Trail fifty-cent piece,but most of its contents consists of a miscellaneous section of sketches, photos and negatives that apparently belonged to the Frasers but cannot be reliably identified with either one of them alone. While the works of James Earle and Laura Gardin Fraser comprise by far the largest part of this section, there is also material related to works of Augustus Saint-Gaudens, David K. Rubins, Sidney B. Waugh, Anna Hyatt Huntington and others.

Memorabilia (boxes 51-61), 1872-1967,have been organized in three major sections: General, Photographs and Printed Matter. The General material has been subdivided by the names of individuals arranged alphabetically. Included here are biographical materials, certificates and awards, ephemera, films of personal subjects, medals received, newspaper clippings, notebooks, obituaries, passports and scrapbooks. Under Edwin Arlington Robinson's name are found a few items of ephemera, a substantial section of newspaper clippings about him and his work, a scrapbook, and his obituaries. The Photographs section has been organized by subject alphabetically. There are a number of very old photographs of each of the Frasers and in the folders labelled "Family and Friends." The glass negatives and oversized photos in this section have been treated like those in the Designs and Reproductions section. Printed Matter contains catalogues, magazine separates, a newspaper, periodicals, pamphlets and postcards, some of which are annotated.

The Writings section (boxes 61-66) contains writings dating from 1897 to 1964, of the Frasers and others. The papers are organized first alphabetically by author, then by type of material and finally by title. Included are articles, books, diaries, speeches, notes, interviews, films on sculptural techniques, and verse. Of special interest is the draft of several chapters of an unpublished autobiography of James Earle Fraser. The Edwin Arlington Robinson material includes one article, "The First Seven Years," and three items of verse, "Cavender's House," "Dionysus in Doubt," and "The Man Who Died Twice." Of this last poem there are two holograph drafts.

The 1977 Accession includes the Fraser Lantern Slide Collection--approximately 200 slides of Great American Artists presented by the National Academy of Design; photographs and negatives; numerous postcards; and a few miscellaneous items (see box 67).

Arrangement of the Collection

Collection is arranged alphabetically by type and/or topic, with the exception of the glass plate negatives which are listed at the end.


Access Restrictions:

The majority of our archival and manuscript collections are housed offsite and require advanced notice for retrieval. Researchers are encouraged to contact us in advance concerning the collection material they wish to access for their research.

Use Restrictions:

Written permission must be obtained from SCRC and all relevant rights holders before publishing quotations, excerpts or images from any materials in this collection.

Subject Headings


Calder, Alexander Stirling, 1870-1945.
Darling, Jay N. (Jay Norwood), 1876-1962.
Fraser, James Earle, 1876-1953.
Fraser, Laura Gardin, 1889-1966.
French, Daniel Chester, 1850-1931.
Gibson, Charles Dana, 1867-1944.
Gilbert, Cass, 1859-1934.
Henri, Robert, 1865-1929.
Huntington, Anna Hyatt, 1876-1973.
Lawrie, Lee, 1877-1963.
Robinson, Edwin Arlington, 1869-1935.
Roosevelt, Eleanor, 1884-1962.
Saint-Gaudens, Augustus, 1848-1907.
Taft, Lorado, 1860-1936.


Art, American -- 20th century.
Bronze sculpture, American.
Coin design.
Coin designers.
Equestrian statues.
History in art.
Medalists -- United States.
Poets, American -- 20th century.
Portrait medallions.
Portrait sculpture.
Sculptors -- United States.
Sculpture, American.
Sculpture, Modern -- 20th century
Sculpture, Modern -- 20th century -- History
Women artists -- United States
Women sculptors -- United States

Genres and Forms

16mm (photographic film size)
Blueprints (reprographic copies)
Clippings (information artifacts)
Exhibition catalogs.
Film reels.
Lantern slides.
Motion pictures (visual works)
Sound recordings.



Administrative Information

Preferred Citation

Preferred citation for this material is as follows:

James Earle and Laura Gardin Fraser Papers,
Special Collections Research Center,
Syracuse University Libraries

Acquisition Information

Gift of Leila Gardin Sawyer (Mrs. Oliver H.), 1967, 1977.

Table of Contents


Business records

Designs and reproductions



Glass plates

Index to Edwin Arlington Robinson materials

Index to chronological correspondence


Index to Edwin Arlington Robinson materials

The collection contains considerable material relating to Edwin Arlington Robinson. For Robinson's correspondence, see Index to chronological correspondence below. To assist in locating non-correspondence material, the following index is provided.

Index to chronological correspondence

Correspondence is indexed alphabetically by author's surname. The number of letters from a particular correspondent and the bracketing dates are given. Use the date to locate the letter in the chronological Correspondence [General] section (boxes 1-9). If the letter is filed elsewhere, the location is given as "filed under [xxx]." Recipients of letters are given where known. Abbreviations of frequently-used names are as follows: