Editor's note: The following article was reprinted in Resource Library on May 26, 2005 with the permission of the author. Mr. Law's article was written in conjunction with the exhibition titled Sculptors of Cape Ann: From Medals to Monuments, held September 25, 1997 - October 25, 1997 at the Rockport Art Association, Rockport, MA. If you have questions or comments regarding the article, please contact Mr. Law c/o Traditional Fine Arts Organization.


Sculptors of Cape Ann

By Steven Law



A drive around Cape Ann, Boston's north shore, takes one past several coastal scenes made famous in paintings by such artists as Winslow Homer, Fitz Hugh Lane, Childe Hassam, Aldro Hibbard, Emile Gruppe, and Anthony Thieme. But the area's rocky shores and quarries were also home to a group of celebrated sculptors featured in Sculptors of Cape Ann: From Medals to Monuments. Included in this exhibition are works by Paul Manship, Walker Hancock, Katharine Lane Weems, George Demetrios, Franz Denghausen (all former students of Charles Grafly); George Aarons, Richard Recchia, Albert Atkins, and Ulysses Ricci (former students of Bela Pratt); Leonard Craske, Clyde Bathhurst, Anthony De Francisi and Anna Hyatt Huntington.

Although some of these sculptors had Cape Ann roots, others moved there to attend the summer studios of their teachers. Some were captivated by the shore's wildness and natural beauty; some came for the fellowship of renowned sculptors.

At ninety-six years old, Walker Hancock is the sole survivor of this generation. During a recent interview, Hancock greeted me with cane in hand and a pleasant smile, and led me through his studio.

A plaster cast for Hancock's awe-inspiring World War II Memorial caught my eye. The model, which depicts St. Michael lifting the spirit of a dead soldier off a battlefield, was created for the Thirtieth Street Station in Philadelphia. I noticed Head of a Finnish Boy and Head of a Lobsterman, and the busts of President Bush and Robert Frost. Another sweep of the room revealed the ideal memorial, portraits of the famous and not so famous, and figures of Cape Ann locals.

Hancock commented responding to my glance:

My career, if you can call it that, took place at a time, when, despite the depression, I was commissioned to do monumental, decorative and architectural work. Fulfilling the exacting specifications for commissions was, at times, limiting, so as a diversion I would ask the local boys who swam in the quarry to pose for portraits and figure studies.

Charles Grafly had greatly influenced the artistic lives of Hancock and many other Cape Ann sculptors. I asked Hancock to recall his expectations of 1921, when he enrolled at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts in Philadelphia after four years at the St. Louis School of Fine Arts.

I wanted to continue in a program with a certain solidity, simplicity and emphasis on the important things. The Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts had that reputation, and every sculpture student I knew at that time was aware of this great teacher (Grafly) who, like many of the great teachers of his day, had studied in Paris.

Grafly expected students to work half a day, everyday, on figures utilizing live models. Students divided the rest of their time between modeling heads and original compositions while Grafly watched and made criticisms. Hancock continued:

Grafly took for granted that a student knew anatomy as taught by a doctor or a great draftsman like George Bridgeman. So he seldom raised anatomical questions in his criticism. He excelled as a portrait artist, so construction mattered a great deal to him.
Once, during a demonstration, Grafly worked on the back and sides of a head for a long time almost to the point of boredom. Then, Grafly stuck a piece of clay on the front and, quickly formed a nose. With similar ease, he quickly formed a set of eyes and a mouth. The few minutes Grafly spent on the face seemed like magic. But the demonstration illustrated how the face was just part of the head.

Hancock recalled his own efforts at modeling a portrait head, while Grafly watched, without comment:

I looked up from my work to find Grafly standing beside me. Suddenly, still without speaking, he drew his finger across his ear from front to back, and immediately I recognized that I had made the form as if I had drawn it, lacking bulk and construction in the cross section as Grafly had gestured on his own head. After the gesture, Grafly winked, then walked away.

As students worked on nudes or draped figures, according to Hancock:

They often, unknowingly cut in, wounding or defacing the figure, creating distractions in the solidity of form. And, again, without speaking, Grafly would casually stick a piece of clay where something was missing.

Grafly seldom offered praise, but he noticed his students' accomplishments. Hancock remembered:

When Grafly took an interest in a person's work, he could be a great inspiration. When he talked more than usual about a piece, you knew that he was interested in the piece itself, and your progress.

As his students' techniques improved, Grafly shifted his criticism to include the expressive shortcomings of a piece. "That piece doesn't have 'it,'" he would say, referring to the quality that went beyond a literal recording of life. Grafly believed that larger works usually required thought about themes. Hancock explained:

Grafly belonged to an era that regarded symbolism in a way that we don't now. Saint-Gaudens, and all the great French sculptors that they studied with, represented virtues by stylized figures, dressed or partially clothed. Their concern for these ideals probably went back well into the Renaissance.

For serious students, learning to sculpt didn't end with the school year. "If he liked you, he would ask you to come and work in his studio during the summers. That is how I came to Cape Ann," said Hancock.

Once artists mastered the basics, they worked to further their careers, taking advantage of opportunities that presented themselves. Hancock's good fortune came as the result of winning the Rome Prize.

I received a yearly stipend and the opportunity to travel throughout Europe, when I wasn't working. My three years in Rome involved collaborations with architects, painters, and landscape architects as well as a great many pieces: a portrait in marble, a large relief, and in the third year, a life-size figure in plaster.

In April, 1929, just after Hancock returned from Rome, Grafly, who had been struck by a boy driving a stolen car, died.

During his last days, I visited and talked with him, and he asked me to teach his classes, which I did for thirty-eight years, during which time I settled into a routine of teaching in Philadelphia and accomplishing commissions that came my way.


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