Sunday, September 16, 2018

Shadows In A Timeless Myth Presents Meta Warrick Fuller

The state of Massachusetts has always been famous for its history and literature, and especially rich in tradition is the region around Boston. On one side is Charlestown, visited yearly by thousands who make a pilgrimage to the Bunker Hill Monument. Across the Charles River is Cambridge, the home of Harvard University, and Longfellow, and Lowell, and numerous other men whose work has become a part of the nation's heritage. If one will ride on through Cambridge and North Cambridge and Arlington, he will come to Lexington, where he will find in the little Lexington Common one of the most charming spots of ground in America. Overlooking this he will see the Harrington House, and all around other memorials of the Revolution. Taking the car again and riding about seven miles more he will come to Concord, and here he will catch still more of the flavor of the eighteenth century. Walking from the center of the town down Monument Street (he must walk now; there is no trolley, and a carriage or automobile does not permit one to linger by the wayside), he will come after a while to the Old Manse, once the home of Emerson and of Hawthorne, and then see just around the corner the Concord Bridge and the statue of the Minute Man. There is a new bridge now, one of concrete; the old wooden one, so long beloved, at length became unsafe and had to be replaced. In another direction from the center of the town runs Lexington Road, within about half a mile down which one will see the later homes of Emerson and Hawthorne as well as that of Louisa May Alcott. Near the Alcott House, back among the trees, is a quaint little structure much like a Southern country schoolhouse—the so-called Concord School of Philosophy, in which Emerson once spoke. It is all a beautiful country—beautiful most of all for its unseen glory. One gives himself up to reflection; he muses on Evangeline and the Great Stone Face and on the heroic dead who did not die in vain—until a lumbering truck-car on the road calls him back from it all to the workaday world of men.

It is in this state of Massachusetts, so rich in its tradition, that there resides the subject of the present sketch. About halfway between Boston and Worcester, in the quiet, homelike town of Framingham, on a winding road just off the main street, lives Meta Warrick Fuller, one of America's foremost female sculptors.

There are three little boys in the family. They keep their mother very busy; but they also make her very happy. Buttons have to be sewed on and dinners have to be prepared for the children of an artist just as well as for those of other people; and help is not always easy to get. But the father, Dr. S. C. Fuller, a distinguished physician, is also interested in the boys, so that he too helps, and the home is a happy one.

At the top of the house is a long roomy attic. This is an improvised studio—or, as the sculptor would doubtless say, the workshop. Hither, from the busy work of the morning, comes the artist for an hour or half an hour of modeling—for rest, and for the first effort to transfer to the plastic clay some fleeting transient dream.

Meta Warrick Fuller was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, June 9, 1877. For four years she attended the Pennsylvania School of Industrial Art, and it was at this institution that she first began to force serious recognition of her talent. Before very long she began to be known as a sculptor of the horrible, one of her first original pieces being a head of Medusa, with a hanging jaw, beads of gore, and eyes starting from their sockets. At her graduation in 1898 she won a prize for metal work by a crucifix upon which hung the figure of Christ in agony, and she also won honorable mention for her work in modeling. In a post-graduate year she won a much coveted prize in modeling. In 1899 Meta Warrick (then best known by her full name, Meta Vaux Warrick) went to Paris, where she worked and studied three years. Her work brought her in contact with many other artists, among them Augustus St. Gaudens, the sculptor of the Robert Gould Shaw Monument at the head of Boston Common. Then there came a day when by appointment the young woman went to see Auguste Rodin, who after years of struggle and dispraise had finally won recognition as the foremost sculptor in France if not in the world. The great man glanced one after another at the pieces that were presented to him, without very evident interest. At length, thrilled by the figure in "Silent Sorrow," sometimes referred to as "Man Eating His Heart Out," Rodin beamed upon the young woman and said, "Mademoiselle, you are a sculptor; you have the sense of form." With encouragement from such a source the young artist worked with renewed vigor, looking forward to the time when something that she had produced should win a place in the Salon, the great national gallery in Paris. "The Wretched," one of the artist's masterpieces, was exhibited here in 1903, and along with it went "The Impenitent Thief." This latter production was demolished in 1904, after meeting with various unhappy accidents. In the form as presented, however, the thief, heroic in size, hung on the cross torn by anguish. Hardened, unsympathetic, and even defiant, he still possessed some admirable qualities of strength, and he has remained one of the sculptor's most powerful conceptions. In "The Wretched" seven figures greet the eye. Each represents a different form of human anguish. An old man, worn by hunger and disease, waits for death. A mother yearns for the loved ones she has lost. A man bowed by shame fears to look upon his fellow-creatures. A sick child suffers from some hereditary taint. A youth is in despair, and a woman is crazed by sorrow. Over all is the Philosopher who suffers perhaps more keenly than the others as he views the misery around them, and who, powerless to relieve it, also sinks into despair.

Other early productions were similarly characterized by a strongly romantic quality. "Silent Sorrow" has already been remarked in passing. In this a man, worn and gaunt and in despair, is represented as leaning over and actually eating out his own heart. "Man Carrying Dead Body" is in similar vein. The sculptor is moved by the thought of one who will be spurred on by the impulse of duty to the performance of some task not only unpleasant but even loathsome. She shows a man bearing across his shoulder the body of a comrade that has evidently lain on the battlefield for days. The thing is horrible, and the man totters under the great weight; but he forces his way onward until he can give it decent burial. Another early production was based on the ancient Greek story of Oedipus. This story was somewhat as follows: Oedipus was the son of Laius and Jocasta, king and queen of Thebes. At his birth an oracle foretold that the father Laius would be killed by his son. The child was sent away to be killed by exposure, but in course of time was saved and afterwards adopted by the King of Corinth. When he was grown, being warned by an oracle that he would kill his father and marry his mother, he left home. On his journey he met Laius and slew him in the course of an altercation. Later, by solving the riddle of the sphinx, he freed Thebes from distress, was made king of the city, and married Jocasta. Eventually the terrible truth of the relationship became known to all. Jocasta hanged herself and Oedipus tore out his eyes. The sculptor portrays the hero of the old legend at the very moment that he is thus trying to punish himself for his crime. There is nothing delicate or pretty about all such work as this. It is grewsome in fact, and horrible; but it is also strong and intense and vital. Its merit was at once recognized by the French, and it gave Meta Warrick a recognized place among the sculptors of America.

On her return to America the artist resumed her studies at the School of Industrial Art, winning in 1904 the Battles first prize for pottery. In 1907 she produced a series of tableaux representing the advance of the Negro for the Jamestown Tercentennial Exposition, and in 1913 a group for the New York State Emancipation Proclamation Commission. In 1909 she became the wife of Dr. Solomon C. Fuller, of Framingham, Massachusetts. A fire in 1910 unfortunately destroyed some of her most valuable pieces while they were in storage in Philadelphia. Only a few examples of her early work, that happened to be elsewhere, were saved. The artist was undaunted, however, and by May, 1914, she had sufficiently recovered from the blow to be able to hold at her home a public exhibition of her work.

After this fire a new note crept into the work of Meta Warrick Fuller. This was doubtless due not so much to the fire itself as to the larger conception of life that now came to the sculptor with the new duties of marriage and motherhood. From this time forth it was not so much the romantic as the social note that was emphasized. Representative of the new influence was the second model of the group for the Emancipation Proclamation Commission. A recently emancipated Negro youth and maiden stand beneath a gnarled, decapitated tree that has what looks almost like a human hand stretched over them. Humanity is pushing them forth into the world while at the same time the hand of Destiny is restraining them in the full exercise of their freedom. "Immigrant in America" is in somewhat similar vein. An American woman, the mother of one strong healthy child, is shown welcoming to the land of plenty the foreigner, the mother of several poorly nourished children. Closely related in subject is the smaller piece, "The Silent Appeal," in which a mother capable of producing and caring for three sturdy children is shown as making a quiet demand for the suffrage and for any other privileges to which a human being is entitled. All of these productions are clear cut, straightforward, and dignified.
In May, 1917, Meta Warrick Fuller took second prize in a competition under the auspices of the Massachusetts Branch of the Woman's Peace Party, her subject being "Peace Halting the Ruthlessness of War." War is personified as on a mighty steed and trampling to death numberless human beings. In one hand he holds a spear on which he has transfixed the head of one of his victims. As he goes on his masterful career Peace meets him and commands him to cease his ravages. The work as exhibited was in gray-green wax and was a production of most unusual spirit.

Among other prominent titles are "Watching for Dawn," a conception of remarkable beauty and yearning, and "Mother and Child." An early production somewhat detached from other pieces is a head of John the Baptist. This is one of the most haunting creations of Mrs. Fuller. In it she was especially successful in the infinite yearning and pathos that she somehow managed to give to the eyes of the seer. It bears the unmistakable stamp of power.

Compiles from information in the public domain.

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Smiles & Good Fortune,
It is not wealth one asks for, but just enough to preserve one’s dignity, to work unhampered, to be generous, frank and independent. W. Somerset Maugham (1874-1965) Of Human Bondage, 1915

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