JAMES EARLE FRASER: 1876-1953
James Earle Fraser was born in Winona, Minnesota, the son of Thomas Alexander Fraser and Caroline E. (West) Fraser. By 1881 the family had moved to Mitchell, South Dakota were Thomas Fraser served as a civil engineer with the railroad. It was there that James began to produce small sculptures of animals from the soft chalkstone found in the area. His experiences growing up in Dakota Territory influenced his outlook and work for the rest of his life.
Fraser’s Journey to be an Artist
In 1891, the family moved to Minnesota, and later Chicago, where Fraser studied art at the Chicago Art Institute. He went to Paris in 1894 where he soon studied with Augustus Saint-Gaudens. Completed before he was seventeen years old and one of the best-known art pieces in America, Fraser’s sculpture entitled The End of the Trail won the $1,000 award of the American Art Association in Paris. Saint-Gaudens, one of the Association’s jury, asked Fraser to become his assistant. Fraser traveled with him to Windsor, Vermont in 1900 where he helped him in his studio.
The Buffalo/Indian Head Nickel
EnIn 1891, Fraser began designing a new nickel design, the Buffalo or Indian Head nickel. The portrait on the head’s side was a composite of three American Indians – Iron Tail, Big Tree and Two Moons. The buffalo for the tail’s side was named Black Diamond, a resident of New York’s Bronx Zoo. Fraser spent hours trying to catch his form and mood in clay, but Black Diamond stubbornly refused to show his side view, and faced the artist most of the time. He finally captured the likeness he wanted by bribing a zoo attendant to distract the animal.
Fraser’s wife, Laura Gardin Fraser, was also a sculptor and they occasionally collaborated on works of art, including Merriwether Lewis and William Clark. The original plaster sculptures, from which the bronzes were produced, are on exhibit at the Dakota Discovery Museum. The bronzes are at the Missouri state capitol in Jefferson City.
On October 11, 1953, Fraser died at his home in Westport, Connecticut.
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